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Showdown at City Hall as council votes to approve SPD contract

(Seattle Channel)

Seattle City Council has voted to approve the new contract for the Seattle Police Officers Guild by an 8 to 1 margin. Kshama Sawant was the only councilmember who voted in opposition.

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The Community Police Commission and others argued that the new Seattle Police contract rolls back reforms and wanted a ‘no’ vote. But the police chief warned not getting the contract would cause more cops to leave, and make it even harder to find new ones.

Councilmembers voiced their own thoughts leading into the controversial vote.

“I certainly did not sign up for this job to take a step backwards on police reform,” said Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez in a statement ahead of the official vote. She went on to clarify that “rejecting this contract will send the parties back to their respective trenches, [and] will consume whatever reservoir of good faith is left between the two parties.”

“Don’t tell me we’re rolling back reforms — that is an insult,” remarked Councilmember Bruce Harrell in support of the contract.

Councilmember Sawant was the main voice of opposition.

“I am completely opposed to the serious and unacceptable rollback of police accountability measures in this contract,” she said.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan Tweeted our her support of the contract following the vote.

The public’s thoughts on the contract

With hundreds of people in the room during City Council’s Tuesday session, the public comments period was extended to allow more people to have their voices heard. In total, the Council heard over 55 total comments.

“They deserve to be paid,” said one representative for Seattle’s Chinese community. “If you reject it, by the time the next negotiation comes about, Seattle will lose talented police officers.”

“Our officers need a contract, and we need a police force that’s helping our neighborhoods,” said Erin Goodman, executive director of the SoDo Business Improvement Area.

Conversely, a representative for the Seattle Police Commission argued that rejecting the contract was tantamount to continuing positive police reform.

This is about decades worth of reform,” said the Seattle Police Commission’s representative. “It’s our duty to flag these issues.”

The run-up to the vote

Councilmember Gonzales urged a ‘yes’ vote Tuesday morning, despite concerns, so the judge overseeing the consent decree can weigh in.

“This is the next step for us to take. The judge [Robart] made clear last week that he has concerns, he also made clear that he cannot weigh in on those concerns unless the city council approves this contract,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales said she wasn’t hailing the contract as the end all be all of accountability reform, but noted give and take are common in labor negotiations.

She added a resolution for the Tuesday afternoon session ahead of the vote that highlighted six major areas of concern.

“We have a lot more work to get to the finish line in terms of what else we might be able to accomplish in a few short months, when we re-open negotiations with the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild to identify what other reforms we need to put on the table and what other reforms we need to negotiate for in order to fulfill our ongoing commitment to systemic reform of our accountability system, while also being fair to our officers,” Gonzales said at a morning briefing.

Gonzalez’ proposed resolution highlighting those six areas asks the city attorney’s office to request judicial review from Judge Robart, and also passed 8 to 1.

The tentative contract the council voted on is for six years, but SPD has been without a contract for nearly four years. This contract is retroactive, so it won’t be long before it is time to re-open negotiations.

A super-majority was needed to get the contract approved, meaning seven out of nine councilmembers had to vote yes.

At Tuesday’s morning’s briefing, as expected, Councilmember Sawant confirmed her ‘no’ vote.

“I am deeply troubled by the rollback of police accountability in this contract. In May 2017, the City Council unanimously adopted urgently-needed police accountability legislation. While this ordinance was an important step forward, it did not go nearly far enough. And now, instead of the legislation being fully incorporated into the collective bargaining agreement as promised, key accountability measures are proposed to be significantly weakened,” Sawant added in a statement.

At least two other councilmembers were possible ‘no’ votes early on.

In addition to the Community Police Commission, dozens of community groups have come out against the contract, including the local NAACP and several other groups who were behind the push for the just-passed statewide police accountability measure, I-940.

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