“Near-Consensus” Among DOJ and Reformers That Contract Negotiations With Police Union Should be Public

Seattle police patch

In today’s paper, we walk you through some of proposed changes to the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) contract with the city. Members of the union—the city’s rank-and-file cops—are expected to vote on the contract soon.

The changes to the contract are a big deal for Seattle’s ability to hold bad cops accountable—including the ability of the police chief to fire officers and not get overruled by union appeals. And they are critical to making Department of Justice-mandated reforms stick and actually work.

But the proposed changes to the contract are not supposed to be public.Labor negotiations with public sector unions are exempt from the state’s public disclosure laws, and the city has negotiated with SPOG in private over the past eighteen months. Some may be frustrated that the curtain has been lifted on a tentative contract deal that was supposed to be confidential.

Most of the key actors in the police reform process, however, believe that these negotiations should take place in the open.

In a brief filed in federal court last month, the DOJ said a series of “accountability workgroup” meetings held in March, hosted by the City Attorney’s office, had yielded “near-consensus” on “possible modifications to the collective bargaining process to enhance the transparency of union negotiations.”

Additional notes of the meetings—obtained through a public records request—show the Department of Justice, Director of the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), the OPA Auditor, the Community Police Commission (CPC), and the OPA Review Board agreed that the collective bargaining process should be made public.

“Yes,” they answered. The DOJ said it is “informally… in favor of it being open to the public.”

The mayor’s office and federal monitoring team are described in the notes as offering “no comment” on the idea. But SPD management said it would “certainly encourage an adisory [sic] role for more parts of the city to insure insight,” and complained of “state labor laws that hamstring the department reforms.”

The accountability workgroups (ironically, they met in private over the objections of the Community Police Commission) were held to prepare for an upcoming court date with the federal judge overseeing the consent decree onAugust 15 at 1:30 p.m. The hearing is open to the public and the CPC has urged anyone concerned about the pace of reforms to attend.

This post has been updated to correct the date and time, which was changed, of the next consent decree hearing.

http://www.thestranger.com/slog/2016/06/22/24246382/near-consensus-among-doj-and-reformers-that-contract-negotiations-with-police-union-should-be-public