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Seattle police chief: Not approving SPD contract would ‘be a big mistake’

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best. (Matt Pitman, KIRO Radio)

The Seattle City Council continues to work through its budget process, which includes Mayor Jenny Durkan’s funding proposals for the Seattle Police Department.

But there could be some kinks, especially with the tentative Seattle police contract. On Monday, Mayor Jenny Durkan was all smiles as she announced she had sent a new SPD contract to the city council after nearly four years of operating without an agreement.

Fast forward a couple days later — the Community Police Commission urged the council to reject the contract, saying it rolled back hard-won reforms. It argues the contract lessens the standard of proof for misconduct allegations and other issues related to the appeals process for fired cops.

“We have worked so hard over the last several years to get this contract through,” Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best told The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH Radio. “Everything about it is fair and provides fair compensation to the officers who are working hard day in and day out. We are committed to reform. Listen, we were declared in full and effective compliance and we didn’t even have a contract … nothing about any of the negotiations sets us back on reform in any way.”

Best says that people are entitled to their opinions in Seattle, but there are no surprises in the tentative agreement. She notes the council has been fully aware of its details throughout the process.

The council needs seven out of nine votes to pass the contract. Initial word is that there are only six votes in favor of it.

“We need to have this contract go through,” Best said. “We are not going to be able to provide effective public safety, in my opinion, unless we fairly compensate the officers. Too many officers will leave. They’ve worked too hard. No one expects nurses, or teachers, or anyone else to work without a contract. Why should the officers have to do that?”

“I think that saying no to this contract would be a big mistake,” she said

Council not talking

Many expected Thursday’s council budget committee meeting would cover the proposed police contract. Councilmember Lorena Gonzáles quickly made clear that wasn’t going to happen, however.

“I know that we all have on our mind, probably just as much as I have on my mind, that we have a proposed tentative agreement with the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild,” Gonzáles said. “I just want to highlight that those are issues that are not going to be discussed in today’s issue identification.”

Instead, the council talked about staffing. SPD has had difficulty recruiting and retaining officers. The delayed contract has contributed to that. Chief Carmen Best has said a new contract will go a long way to help recruit and retain cops in a city with a high cost of living.

The council also noted that between 2016 and 2018 there was a 30 percent drop of people taking the test to become a Seattle police officer. There had been a goal of adding 37 new officers last year. That didn’t happen. Before that, there were other hiring goals that were never met.

Mayor Durkan’s proposed budget has money for 40 new officers. Gonzáles has concerns about that goal.

“What I’m struggling with, in terms of the goal of 10 in 2019, and 30 in 2020, is whether or not that is a realistic and achievable goal,” Gonzáles said. “We have set goals in the past and have missed those goals. And really I’m just frustrated with setting goals and not meeting them and being blamed for not meeting those goals.”

Seattle police contract

The money for the contract — which includes a significant pay raise and more than $60 million in back pay — is included in the mayor’s budget proposal. The tentative contract was overwhelmingly approved by the police union. Mayor Durkan recently told KIRO Radio that she had no reason to believe it would not be approved by the city council.

“I’m really, really gravely concerned if this does not pass,” Chief Best said. “I’m worried that we will lose officers, I don’t know how many … because they won’t feel supported. I think that will happen. Not only that, we will not be able to hire officers. Why come in for lower than fair wages when you can go work for another organization? We are already competing with other police organizations, with the private sector for jobs. This is not going to be easy under the best circumstances. If we don’t have a contact, it’s going to be difficult times.”

The city council has been quiet on how, or even when it plans to vote on this contract.

MyNorthwest contributed to this article.

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