News Seattle Police Guild Shoots Self In Foot
posted by January 25 at 13:02 PMon
The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) has won arbitration over whether the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board (OPARB)—a citizen oversight panel that reviews SPD’s internal investigations—should get access to unredacted files.
In 2006, SPOG filed an unfair labor practices complaint, alleging that the City Council had failed to negotiate OPARB’s unrestricted access into SPOG’s contract with the city.
Yesterday, the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) agreed with SPOG’s complaint and ordered OPARB to return or destroy all of the unredacted files it has received.
The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild is calling this a major victory against the City, and it’s going to have a huge impact on one of the City’s layers of police accountability.
“This ruling is a resounding slap down to the City Council,” says SPOG President Rich O’Neil.
O’Neil believes the ruling will make it unlikely, if not impossible, for the city to negotiate for OPARB’s unrestricted access in future bargaining sessions. “Once you get a ruling like we just got, it’s very rare any arbitrator would grant them that in the future,” he says.
It’s clear the guild doesn’t want a civilian panel to have access to unredacted files. However, the only rationale O’Neil provided as to why OPARB’s access should be restricted, was that looking at unredacted files wasn’t in their job description.
While O’Neil seems elated with PERC’s ruling—which will undoubtedly be editorialized to death in SPOG’s next issue of The Guardian—this ruling could actually end up improving Seattle’s police accountability system. By crippling our current police accountability system, which already seemed to be working in officers’ favor, SPOG has forced the City to go back to the drawing board, which may require our accountability system to be rebuilt from the ground up.
By effectively cutting OPARB off at the knees, SPOG may have just reopened the debate over police accountability, which has quieted down substantially since the controversial Patterson case exploded last Spring.
After all was said and done, the public seemed OK with keeping the multi-tiered oversight system in place, and even Josh Feit argued that the system was working. Now, SPOG has effectively removed one of those layers and upended the system, a move which will almost certainly require a larger look at how police accountability works in this town.
With two new councilmembers at the helm of the public safety committee—formerly headed up by Nick Licata—the baggage from past negotiations may be gone. Councilmembers Tim Burgess and Bruce Harrell—Chair and Vice-Chair of the public safety committee—may get the opportunity to build an accountability system from scratch. Hopefully they can come up with something that works.