Before diving into the SPOG contract, let’s start with a brief overview of the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), the police officer’s labor union. Labor unions are organizations of workers that work with employers and advocate for the workers wages, hours and working conditions. Oftentimes, Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA) or contracts are written out to finalize agreements made between the labor union and the employer.
However, police unions have taken this mission of “protecting their workers” to extremes by writing in practices and policies to the CBA’s that enable and protect racist, unprofessional, and violent officers. The SPOG is no different from the nation’s other police unions. In fact, agreements made in the current contract restricts full accountability, meddles with investigations, protects guilty officers and overrides the Police Accountability Ordinance passed in 2017.
Immediately after the Seattle City Council introduced the new SPOG CBA, concerned citizens and city officials voiced their concerns. The CPC and twenty-four (24) community organizations urged the SCC to reject the contract. Judge Robart highlights inconsistencies between the contract and the Consent Decree and recommends that Seattle’s government vetoes the contract. Nevertheless, the SCC ratified the contract in late 2018.
The current SPOG contract expired, on December 31st, 2020. the Seattle City Council (SCC) did not release new information.
It’s important to note that just because the current contract will expire, negotiations can be postponed for as long as the SPOG representatives and the SCC deems necessary. In fact, during the last round of negotiations, the contract had expired in 2014 and the new contract was not approved until 2018. That is close to four years that the Seattle Public was in the dark regarding the status of the contract.
During the negotiations process, there is currently no community representative present to ensure that the City and SPOG follow through with recommendations made by the Accountability Bodies and other community organizations. The only members involved in the process are on either the Seattle City Council or the SPOG Board of Directors. Source: municipal code 4.04.120
Attaining community representation is the necessary first step towards eliminating the problems within the SPOG’s contract. Knowing this, we at SGPA have created a Community Voice Petition (found here) designed to ensure the concerns of the Seattle people can be heard during negotiations.
Problems with the SPOG contract:
As mentioned, the SPOG contract is riddled with problematic policies and practices that perpetuate a racist and violent system. In the following paragraphs, we will address several of the problematic practices and policies written into the SPOG contract. Please be advised that the full extent of issues is not limited to those listed in this section.
The contract blocks accountability. Article 3.10 of the contract determines that any Mediation will not result in disciplinary action, as long as the employee actively listens and communicates. We must remember that these are adult police officers, not kindergarteners. A simple mediation where all they need to do is listen and communicate sounds more like the solution to a playground fight than to inappropriate use of force and power. When an officer puts a citizen in harm's way they must be held accountable, yet this contract prevents that.
Furthermore, everything but the mediator’s assessment of the conduct during the mediation is kept confidential. This means that officers have no marks on their record, allowing them to continue a pattern of behavior without the public knowing.
Additionally, Appendix D, which focused on “citizens on the Office of Police Accountability”, determines that “any case that reasonably could lead to termination will have a sworn investigator assigned to the case”. This is a blatant example of the police policing themselves and provides absolutely no accountability as the people will never know what occurred in the investigation. An internal investigation is not the accountability the people of Seattle deserve.
The contract meddles with investigations. Article 3.6 states that any time an investigator would like to interview an employee, they must notify the officer 5-30 days prior to the interview and provide the topics being discussed. In the interview, only the predetermined topics can be discussed. If the interviewer would like to address any new topics, they must notify the officer in question again and set up an additional interview. This not only provides officers with time to come up with a story, but it is also a luxury not given to civilians under investigation, so why should it be given to officers?
Furthermore, Article 3.6 determines that if the investigation exceeds 180 days, the officer will face no consequences. Extensions can be requested but are ultimately permitted by the Chief of Police. This simply allows the SPD to escape accountability through the use of time-limits and gives too much power to the Chief of Police. If an extension is necessary to conduct a sound investigation, it must be provided without question.
Finally, Appendix D restricts the number of civilian OPA investigators to just two out of the nine. The other seven investigators are sworn officers in the SPD. Due to this, any investigation conducted by the OPA is actually an internal investigation, especially as there is no requirement that any investigators be civilians.
The Contract protects guilty officers. If an officer is fired, suspended, or demoted for misconduct they can file a Discipline Grievance to challenge their sentencing. The Director of Labor Relations investigates the grievance and submits a recommendation to the Chief of Police who has executive authority to rehire the officer. No police officer should be able to get their job back when they put the Seattle people in harm's way.
Additionally, Appendix A states that there will be no consequences if the officer’s testimony does not match what their body worn video shows. In a regular court, lying about your whereabouts or actions could be considered a crime in and of itself, so why doesn't this apply to officers? Well, the contract reasons that “selective focus, influence of adrenaline, fight or flight response, [and] tunnel vision” all affect the officers ability to remember.
Considering police officers are trained professionals who frequently work in high-stress situations, this is not a worthy excuse for lying in their testimonies. Meanwhile, many victims of police brutality who are not trained in handling high-stress situations, are often ridiculed for attempting to flee, resisting arrest, or following the officers orders. No guilty officer should be given any allowances for lying.
The Contract overrides the Ordinance.The Ordinance is the legislation governing the rights and responsibilities of the Accountability Bodies. Appendix E of the SPOG contract refers to select sections of the Ordinance and either contradicts, eliminates or changes the implications of the section. Additionally, it is agreed that if there are any contradictions between the two documents, all personnel must adhere to the wording of the contract.
This overhauls the power of the accountability bodies to provide accountability and places the control in the hands of the SPD. These bodies, while largely ineffective and flawed, were built to provide some level of accountability and community involvement; this contract undermines any accountability made possible by the Ordinance. Therefore, prioritizing this document perpetuates the system where the police vouch for and protect the police from discipline and scrutiny.
The full contract can be found here.