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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How Mayor Ed Murray Unraveled Two Years of Police Reform in Only Two Months

Posted by on Wed, Apr 16, 2014 at 9:32 AM

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  • Danny Hellman

The Seattle Police Officers' Guild is a club of retrograde good old boys that embodies the most toxic aspects of cop culture. Officially a labor union representing about 1,250 sworn officers—negotiating police contracts, shaping department policy—the guild's past leadership admits that the union, commonly known as SPOG, spends most of its time defending officers involved in misconduct investigations.

After a spate of misconduct cases arose in 2010, eventually resulting in the US Department of Justice finding that Seattle police have a pattern of using excessive force, editorials began appearing in the SPOG newspaper, the Guardian, attacking political leaders who supported reform, opposing the reform plan, and calling to overturn programs intended stop racial profiling. The city's Race and Social Justice Initiative is "an assault on traditional and constitutional American values," one Guardian piece declared. Efforts to combat racial profiling were "socialist policies" perpetrated by "the enemy" (with "the enemy" being city officials who wanted to work on the racial profiling issue). Another piece, published the same year a cop threatened to "beat the fucking Mexican piss out of" an innocent man, argued cops should be allowed to call citizens "bitch" and "n***a" (asterisks appeared in the original). SPOG compared the Justice Department's investigation to the federal government's bloody standoffs at Waco and Ruby Ridge. They said the city attorney charging an officer with assault after the officer kicked a teenager lying on the ground was "a calculated and evil move." They sued to block the police reform plan after it was approved by a judge. And they said that several assistant chiefs partnering with elected officials to implement early reforms were a sign that "the enemy" had found "new allies... at the very top of SPD."

Late last summer, SPOG leaders met with one of those assistant chiefs—Jim Pugel, who'd since become interim police chief—to press Pugel to renegotiate at least 19 cases in which officers had been found guilty of misconduct. SPOG wanted its officers cleared of wrongdoing, and it wanted to accomplish this by using a little-known procedure in which the union president and police chief simply sign a piece of paper that removes the misconduct from an officer's permanent file. Otherwise, the union threatened, it would litigate these aggrieved cases to one of the city's appellate bodies. Appealing to these bodies is costly; it basically amounts to going to court. To hear them out first, Pugel said SPOG could present its case in a mediation meeting with representatives of the SPD and the city attorney's office. That meeting in mid-September ran seven hours.

The union was "unwilling to budge on any case," Pugel remembers. "I said, 'It's over—let's close the mediation. Ignore them for the time being and let the discipline stand.'"

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