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Friday, January 25, 2008

Seattle Police Guild Shoots Self In Foot

posted by on January 25 at 13:02 PM

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.

RSS icon Comments

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.


Posted by Mr. Poe | January 25, 2008 1:13 PM

they can't handle the truth.

Posted by infrequent | January 25, 2008 1:29 PM

Yay, SPOG (Secrecy for Police Outrage Gamesmanship) !!

Posted by unPC | January 25, 2008 1:33 PM

Um... Jonah?

If the SPOG stands unchallenged with this win via PERC, what's to prevent them from refusing to bargain any new system into place during their next contract talks, slated for 2010?

Besides, do you really think the new council members, who got their positions almost entirely thanks to SPOG funding and efforts, will really try to enact any real meaningful changes against SPOG wishes?

I admit, it's an interesting way to look at it... but I'm afraid this ruling has some pretty scary and far-reaching implications for accountability efforts.

Posted by Packratt | January 25, 2008 1:43 PM

...Sorry, but the point is that irregardless as to whether the city wishes to fix the current system or implement a new one, it MUST appeal this ruling and win.

Otherwise, the SPOG, who is responsible for weakening the current system to the point where it could be gamed like it is today, will do the same to any other system or proposed change.

That's the sad truth of it.

Posted by Packratt | January 25, 2008 1:54 PM

Time for a citizen's INITIATIVE.

This has gone far enough.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 25, 2008 2:03 PM

Irregardless is a word that many mistakenly believe to be correct usage in formal style, when in fact it is used chiefly in nonstandard speech or casual writing. Coined in the United States in the early 20th century, it has met with a blizzard of condemnation for being an improper yoking of irrespective and regardless and for the logical absurdity of combining the negative ir– prefix and –less suffix in a single term. Although one might reasonably argue that it is no different from words with redundant affixes like debone and unravel, it has been considered a blunder for decades and will probably continue to be so.

Posted by lizard of condemnation | January 25, 2008 2:07 PM

time for full on, no holds barred civilian/citizen oversight.

Posted by gnossos | January 25, 2008 2:07 PM

Why the fuck are issues of public oversight limited by contract bargaining? Shouldn't legislation trump all this bullshit?

I mean, seriously, I'm down with the citizens initiative idea.

Posted by seattle98104 | January 25, 2008 2:34 PM

I'd like an investigation into why Seattle's cops hate Seattle's citizens so much. They are way more antagonistic than LAPD.

Posted by DOUG. | January 25, 2008 2:36 PM

Maybe someone should file one and bring copies to the Dem/GOP caucus locations on Feb. 9th?

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 25, 2008 2:40 PM

Jonah are you crazy?

Tim Burgess the former cop and new head of the Public Safety committee is going to rebuild police accountability "from the ground up"?

WHO on the City Council is agitating for any real police accountability in this city? Seriously. No one had Nick's back when the Chief and Mayor tag-teamed him. Joe Szwaja was the only candidate for City Council who even supported creating a police accountability system with real teeth. Where is the call for any serious restructuring going to come from?

Posted by Trevor | January 25, 2008 3:11 PM

The feeling is now that they have got two Republican leaning councilmembers in charge of the public safety committee, Burgess and Harrell, they will be to ride out any kind of mutiny by the public.

Posted by Touring | January 25, 2008 3:15 PM

Sorry fellers, but you're ignoring some relevant facts:

Both Burgess and Harrell are independents.

A citizen's initiative could only require the city to negotiate oversight. You can't change working conditions without a change in contract.

The police are still negotiating their one-year-overdue contract. They fully expect to go to arbitration. An arbiter is very unlikely to implement a major restructuring of oversight.

An observation:
I couldn't possibly imagine why the police would object to someone like Packratt on an oversight committee. He's clearly unbiased and appreciates the intricacies of their jobs.

Posted by six shooter | January 25, 2008 3:32 PM

What bargaining power does the Police Guild have? Are police allowed to strike in the event of a contract dispute?

Posted by Phil M | January 25, 2008 3:44 PM

#15 - the Guild is the police's union, so it basically does all the bargaining/negotiating for SPD officers. Whenever you hear anything related to SPOG, realize this is a union speaking. Unfortunately, SPOG has chosen to protect its members' interests over the community its members claim to serve, effectively alienating and setting themselves apart as separate (and more privileged) than the average community member. I'm all for supporting unions in general, but SPOG obstructs any accountability efforts, at a level beyond most other public employees' unions. This opening needs to be leveraged into some sort of change.

Posted by bookworm | January 25, 2008 4:43 PM

Thanks, Bookworm, but I understand the SPOG is the police union.

Normally, the bargaining power that a union holds is a near-monopoly on labor. If there is a dispute over their working arrangement, they have the option of refusing to work, thereby applying pressure on the employer, who needs their labor in order to operate.

But some unions, normally those that involve public safety, are barred from striking. In those cases, I'm curious what leverage they have.

For instance:

Widget builders: "We want more money per hour!"

Widgets, Inc.: "We won't pay you more. We have vacation homes to pay for, you know."

Widget builders: "Oh yeah? Build your own damned widgets, then. We're not going to be coming in to work tomorrow."

Widgets, Inc.: "Okay, look for it on your next paycheck."

But in this case:

SPD: "We demand no meaningful oversight!"

Citizens' elected officials: "No, when you fuck up, people are hurt. We're going review your work, and when you do something you are not supposed to -- like beat the shit out of some jaywalker who ran from your plainclothesed-asses after you jumped out of your unmarked drugbustforteituremobile and chased him down the street -- you're going to be looking for a new non-gun-wielding career."

SPD: "Oh yeah? Well then we're not... going to be... very happy about it."

Really -- how does this work? Jonah?

Posted by Phil M | January 25, 2008 5:14 PM

@14 ... independents.

Lol, you actually believe that.

My, you're gullible.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 25, 2008 5:34 PM

Will in Seattle: You're still on the hook for your "Oh my gawd, Burgess is a right-winger who hates the gays" blather during the election.

While he doesn't have a record as a council member upon which to stand, we'll let his actions speak for themselves as his term continues.

Posted by six shooter | January 25, 2008 5:58 PM

@15: no they cannot strike. But, SPOG/SPD have completely cowed the mayor and aside from Licata no one on the city council seems willing to take them on. So when they bargain their contract SPOG gets to insert language that it likes regarding oversight.

Until we get either a mayor or a majority of the council willing to stand up to them we will have no meaningful oversight.

Posted by gnossos | January 25, 2008 6:05 PM

Phil M:

Organized public service employees (esp. public safety employees) can't strike. It's against the law. It may still be against the law for them to even talk about striking.

They have two concessions during difficult labor negotiations.

1. They're a closed shop. The city isn't allowed to hire scabs or non-union cops to replace them.

2. The city is required to negotiate a contract with them. If neither party comes to an agreement, they're both required to go to an arbiter.

The arbiter is supposed to listen to both sides make their cases and decide a resolution somewhere in the middle of their sticking points.

Neither side wants to go to the arbiter, but both sides threaten.

The city lately has decided to let the public safety unions work without contracts.

Traditionally, an arbiter punishes the city for this behavior. The longer the cops go without a contract, the better deal they stand if negotiations go this far.

Since the mayor's latest term, the city has demanded a token from each union.

The firefighters agreed to work a little more than a week extra each year.

The fire chiefs agreed to let the city move them to different areas within the department.

The city may think they're setting a precedent with these tokens that will carry into future contract negotiations. Once a precedent is set, an arbiter is free to fall upon it in future arbitration.

Posted by six shooter | January 25, 2008 6:11 PM

BTW: In my experience, most cops want oversight. They just want what they consider fair oversight.

Most do great jobs. Most hate being lumped together in the public's eye with the assholes and the abusers. Fair oversight would allow them to point to their clean records when people make blanket statements about "all the cops".

I wish I knew what fair oversight looked like.

Posted by six shooter | January 25, 2008 6:16 PM

Six shooter: cops use the word "fair" to block all forms of oversight that would subject them to citizen authority. They do not trust anyone other than cops to judge them. But if there's a culture of impunity within the police department because of poor leadership from the Chief, then the whole idea of accountability collapses without citizen oversight.

You'd think that the Alley-Barnes case, and all the media attention it received, could force either the Chief to lead, the Mayor to fire the Chief, or the Council to step up in the absence of Chief/ Mayor leadership and reform the OPA system. The fact that none of this has happened is truly discouraging, and shows the limits of what the media can accomplish when their stories of corruption aren't coupled with sustained, mobilized citizen outrage.

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Posted by Test Pilot | January 27, 2008 12:45 PM

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