Seattle unanimously passes police management contract focusing on accountability
The Seattle City Council unanimously approved a contract between the city and the Seattle Police Management Association, which represents about 80 police lieutenants and captains, by a vote of 8-0.
“This agreement creates a new discipline review system that marks a sea change in how discipline appeals operate,” Councilmember Lisa Herbold said during the city council meeting. “It will help slow that backlog from growing by ensuring cases aren’t being entirely relitigated during arbitration as they currently are. It will also ensure arbitrators, who are not generally experts on policing, don’t substitute their judgment for the police chief’s, undermining accountability as happened in the Adley Shepherd case.”
The contract will establish new restrictions on arbitration, make it harder for SPD to “run out the clock” on investigations, and implement other key provisions of the city’s landmark 2017 accountability ordinance.
Arbitration gives a police officer or commander who’s been accused of misconduct an opportunity to challenge the findings of the Office of Police Accountability to an outside investigator. This process has been at the center of several controversial cases in recent years.
In 2018, an arbitrator reinstated former SPD officer Adley Shepherd, who was fired for punching a handcuffed woman sitting in the back of a police car. Three years later, a state judge overturned the arbitrator’s decision.
Earlier this year, an arbitrator reinstated a parking enforcement officer after Seattle Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz fired him for telling a coworker that he supported lynching.
Federal Judge James Robart ordered the city to fix its arbitration process when he ruled the city partly out of compliance with the agreement in 2019.
“You will vote today for another police union contract that allows police to investigate police and allows for the accountability failures to continue,” Howard Gale, representing seattlestop.org, said during the public comment section. He mentioned that SPD had killed 12 people over the last nine years who were experiencing a behavioral health crisis while not wielding a firearm. “One of those was Charlene Elias, the pregnant mother of four murdered five years ago this Saturday, just four weeks after Seattle’s police accountability legislation was passed. Her murder, like the 11 others under similar circumstances over the last nine years, was deemed by this accountability system to be lawful and proper.”
“I look forward to a future of justice and not backwards to a mythical past and false promises,” Gale continued. “And for God’s sakes, do not congratulate yourselves today for living in the past when you have another police union contract that allows police to investigate police and declare every killing lawful and proper.”
With the contract approved, captains and lieutenants will receive retroactive wage increases of 2.7% in 2020, 1.9% in 2021, and 4% in 2022. It is common practice for police to see retroactive increases, in part because they generally take years to negotiate. Police often operate under expired contracts.
In 2023, police managers would receive a pay bump equivalent to the consumer price index increase, up to 4%. Overall, this will cost more than $6 million through the end of next year.
The SPMA contract only covers police managers, but has the potential to influence Seattle Police Officers Guild’s (SPOG) negotiations. SPOG is just beginning negotiations with the city for its own contract, which expired at the end of 2020.