Tag: police contract

Police Management Contract, Which Includes Concessions, Could Serve as Template for SPOG Negotiations

By Erica C. Barnett

On Tuesday, the Seattle City Council is expected to approve a contract between the city and the Seattle Police Management Association, which represents about 80 police lieutenants and captains.

The contract would establish new restrictions on arbitration (a process through which police can appeal disciplinary decisions for misconduct), 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. The city effectively abandoned the new law when it signed a contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild, which represents officers and sergeants, the following year; that contract supersedes the 2017 law whenever there’s a conflict between the contract and the ordinance.

The SPMA contract only covers police managers, but has potential implications for the hundreds of police officers and sergeants who are represented by SPOG as well. SPOG is just beginning negotiations with the city for its own contract, which expired at the end of 2020.

Once the contract is signed, captains and lieutenants will receive retroactive wage increases of 2.7 percent in 2020, 1.9 percent in 2021, and 4 percent in 2022. (Retroactive increases are common in police contracts, in part because they generally take years to negotiate, which means 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 percent. Overall, the increase just for this relatively small group of employees will cost more than $6 million through the end of next year.

The most significant change in the contract—and the provision that could have the most direct impact on negotiations with SPOG, according to several people familiar with police contract negotiations who spoke to PubliCola on background—is in the section on arbitration.

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 and any discipline imposed by the police chief to an outside investigator. This process has been at the center of several controversial cases in recent years. In 2018, an arbitrator reinstated then-SPD officer Adley Shepherd, who was fired for punching a handcuffed woman who was sitting in the back of a police car; three years later, a state judge overturned the arbitrator’s decision, but such reversals are rare. Earlier this year, an arbitrator reinstated a parking enforcement officer (a position housed, at the time of the incident, in SPD) after Seattle Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz fired him for telling a coworker that he supported lynching.

Federal Judge James Robart, who oversees the decade-old consent decree between the US Department of Justice and the city, ordered the city to fix its arbitration process when he ruled the city partly out of compliance with the agreement in 2019.

The new SPMA contract would put additional bumpers around the arbitration process when a captain or lieutenant appeals serious forms of discipline, such as firing and demotion. Currently, arbitration is a kind of secondary trial: Officers are allowed to bring in new evidence and witnesses that neither the OPA nor the police chief have seen, and the arbitrator can use any standard of proof they want to decide whether a cop is guilty of misconduct. For example, arbitrators can require the city to present “clear and convincing” evidence that an person is guilty of misconduct that justifies the punishment they received—a difficult hurdle.

Often, arbitrators’ decisions can seem arbitrary: In the case of the parking enforcement officer who was reinstated, the arbitrator found that the officer had no disciplinary record or complaints about similar comments in the past.

The contract attempts to directly address many of those issues. First, it would prohibit police managers accused of misconduct from introducing entirely new information, or witnesses, during arbitration. Second, it would change the standard for the police department to prove the officer was guilty of misconduct to a “preponderance of the evidence” requirement, meaning that it’s more likely than not that the misconduct occurred. And third, it would require outside arbitrators to decide whether the discipline the police chief imposed for misconduct was arbitrary or capricious; if it wasn’t, the arbitrator will have to uphold it.

SPMA’s contract doesn’t directly impact SPOG or its ongoing negotiations with the city, but it does set precedents, of a sort, for the city to bring up during negotiations.

“This agreement creates a new discipline review system that marks a sea change in how discipline appeals operate,” the city council’s public safety committee chair, Lisa Herbold, wrote in a recent letter to a constituent. “It will help slow that backlog from growing by ensuring cases aren’t being entirely relitigated during arbitration as they currently are (de novo review). It will also ensure arbitrators, who are not generally experts on policing, don’t substitute their judgement for the police chief’s, undermining accountability as happened in the Adley Shepherd case.”

Advocates have argued for getting rid of arbitration entirely; legislation that would have done away with arbitration failed last year in Olympia. The ACLU’s People Power Washington project has demanded five specific changes to the contract; some, including subpoena power for accountability agencies looking into officer misconduct, are already in place. Continue reading “Police Management Contract, Which Includes Concessions, Could Serve as Template for SPOG Negotiations”

Critics Say Bombastic Podcast that Replaced Police Union Newspaper Represents Strategic Shift at SPOG

The Guardian, March 2015

By Paul Kiefer

The Guardianthe official newspaper of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG), went out of print a few months into the pandemic. The paper’s disappearance was a sign of an important shift within Seattle’s largest police union, and one that closed a window into the guild’s interior life.

The print-only newspaper, which had a circulation of about 3,000 at its peak, was read mostly by police officers, retired police officers, labor organizers and city hall staffers. When articles from the paper did make it into the public eye, they were generally buoyed by controversy, like a 2011 opinion piece in which an officer called a training course on racial profiling an attack on “American values” and described Seattle’s elected leaders as a “quaint socialist cabal.”

Among SPOG members and retirees, however, The Guardian’s demise was a sign of a strategic and generational shift. The new guild president, Mike Solan, had recently defeated the incumbent, Kevin Stuckey, by promising to aggressively and publicly defend Seattle police officers against criticism from the public and elected city officials. Solan’s dramatic campaign video, featuring footage of riot police clashing with protesters, drew tens of thousands of views. Stuckey’s video, which focused on the guild’s stability and relationships with other unions, drew only a few hundred views.

After his victory, Solan began reshaping the guild’s approach to public relations. A few months after he took office in February 2020, Solan dismissed former SPOG president Rich O’Neill—who had retired from SPD and returned to SPOG to handle contract negotiations and media relations for Stuckey—and quietly shuttered The Guardian. In December of that year, he introduced a replacement: A bombastic monthly podcast called “Hold the Line with Mike Solan“, produced in the style of conservative talk radio shows.

“On the podcast, we hear the president’s opinion. Where’s the rest of the [SPOG] board? What forum does an officer have now to get their opinion out? There isn’t one.”—Former SPOG President Rich O’Neill

Typically, Solan uses his podcast to criticize the Seattle City Council, who he argues have sacrificed public safety and the well-being of police officers to appease an “activist mob.” The details of this criticism vary. In one 90-minute episode, Solan decried Seattle’s “Homeless Industrial Complex”; in another, he condemned the vaccine mandate for city workers as an ill-advised blow to SPD’s already shrinking ranks. In contrast to The Guardian, few other guild members have appeared on “Hold the Line”; instead, Solan relies on guests from outside the police department, ranging from former mayoral candidate James Donaldson to encampment removal activist Andrea Suarez.

While Solan’s allies pointed to The Guardian’s shrinking readership among younger officers as a reason to replace the paper with a podcast, O’Neill does not believe that younger officers were to blame for the paper’s demise. Instead, he said Solan made the change as “a way to give the president more control over the guild’s voice. On the podcast, we hear the president’s opinion. Where’s the rest of the [SPOG] board? What forum does an officer have now to get their opinion out? There isn’t one.”

SPOG published the first issue of The Guardian in 1970 as a venue for editorials about the state of SPD and city politics, announcements about deaths and retirements, updates on contract negotiations, and the occasional recipe. Although the guild appointed officers with writing experience to edit the paper, SPOG’s president had the final say on what made it into print. The paper was mostly written by officers themselves.

“It afforded officers a place to get their frustrations out,” Stuckey said. “If there was a training they didn’t like, they could write about it in the paper.” O’Neill said that he tried to strike a balance between allowing officers to air their opinions and avoiding direct criticism of elected officials or SPD command staff. He did, however, make some exceptions: The paper regularly criticized former city attorney Pete Holmes. Holmes did not return a call for comment.

O’Neill viewed The Guardian as a centerpiece of SPOG’s public relations strategy, and an opportunity for transparency. “It made officers more accessible,” he said. “The department has a policy that says you can’t speak to the press without permission, and if you try to talk to the press anonymously, you can get in trouble. But if you wrote something in the union paper, that was considered protected union speech.”

Some former readers outside the guild, however, believe publishing contentious articles actually harmed SPOG’s mission as a union. Continue reading “Critics Say Bombastic Podcast that Replaced Police Union Newspaper Represents Strategic Shift at SPOG”

How Reforms for Off-Duty Police Work Died on the Vine

Image reprinted through a Creative Commons license.

By Paul Kiefer

In May of 2017, serious changes to the Seattle Police Department’s oversight of its officers’ off-duty work appeared to be imminent.

For years, officers found off-duty work as security guards and traffic flaggers in Seattle through an opaque system rife with real and perceived conflicts of interest. Though officers leveraged the power of their department jobs to find high-paying work in their free time, SPD didn’t oversee how much its officers charged for their services, screen outside employers, or closely monitor officers’ adherence to department rules. The system was based on trust, and it often failed. As early as 2005, a Seattle Times investigation found that dozens of officers skirted department rules prohibiting them from working in bars and nightclubs, sometimes acting as bouncers, while supervisors looked the other way.

But even after some basic reforms, the world of off-duty employment remained a gray area in which officers’ duties to the public and loyalties to their employers were blurred. For a decade, police accountability experts, including the City Auditor and retired judge Anne Levinson, pushed the department and city council to intervene.

In June of 2017, the council passed a sweeping accountability ordinance that included the requirement—long championed by reform advocates—that SPD use civilians to independently manage and oversee its officers’ secondary employment in-house, with the goal of creating a transparent system that would give the city control over allocating contracts and setting prices at no cost to the public.

Four months later, then-police chief Kathleen O’Toole highlighted the urgency of those reforms by asking the FBI to investigate allegations that SPD officers, with the help of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG), conspired to inflate hourly prices and intimidated business and property owners to stave off competition. As the FBI launched its investigation, then-mayor Tim Burgess doubled down on the reforms in the accountability ordinance, signing an executive order directing SPD to create a timeline and work plan for taking over management of officers’ off-duty work.

But more than three years later, SPD has made almost no progress toward managing its officers’ off-duty work, and the windows for corruption that sparked the FBI investigation in 2017 remain wide open. The death of those reforms after a change in leadership and a rush to reach a labor agreement with SPOG in 2018 is a lesson in how quickly city leaders can forget or abandon a widely supported reform.

More than three years after the city adopted a sweeping police accountability ordinance, SPD has made almost no progress towards managing its officers’ off-duty work, and the windows for corruption that sparked an FBI investigation in 2017 remain wide open.

Peter Nguyen, the labor negotiator who represented the city’s labor relations unit during bargaining with SPOG in 2018, says that the death of secondary employment reforms deserved more outcry than it received. At its core, he argued, SPD officers’ secondary employment stems directly from their primary jobs as police officers; therefore, Nguyen believes the city has the right to oversee how its police officers use their role as cops to make money in the private sector.

At the very least, Nguyen says, “we need to be assured that a police officer is not working too many off-duty hours or coming off of an all-night security stint and directly patrolling our streets while armed, fatigued, and judgement-impaired,” he said. He also said the current system could also create opportunities for officers’ off-duty loyalties to seep into their on-duty responsibilities. “How do we know that an on-duty officer doesn’t happen to over-patrol a business which pays them after hours as a form of kick-back?” he asked.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who chairs the council’s public safety committee, echoed Nguyen’s and other police accountability advocates’ concerns about overworked officers and the potential for conflicts of interest. “Who is regulating and coordinating those off-duty jobs, essentially running a private, for-hire police department?” she said, alluding to past litigation about officers connecting their friends on the force to high-paying off-duty jobs, creating a power and income imbalance within the department.

Under current rules, an SPD officer who wants to find work needs the department’s permission, which they receive by applying for a permit from the department. When working off-duty, SPD now requires officers to enforce the law and follow department policies, and SPD policy forbids officers with records of misconduct from holding secondary jobs.

Despite that policy, the department approved secondary employment permits for at least two officers who appeared on the King County Prosecutor’s Brady list—a list of officers with sustained findings of dishonesty, evidence of racial bias, or criminal charges or convictions—in 2019. Detective Franklin Poblocki, who joined the county prosecutor’s Brady list for lying to Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability during a misconduct investigation in 2018, received department approval for 23 permits in 2019 alone, 11 of them after the county added him to their Brady list in June of that year. Officer Wade Murray, who also landed on the prosecutor’s Brady list in 2019 for lying to the OPA, received approval for three off-duty work permits later that year.

The absence of an oversight office in the department has left other problems unaddressed. Department policy forbids officers from working more than 64 hours a week, including off-duty hours, to ensure that officers don’t come on duty overworked. But without an oversight office, officers are left to self-report their hours to the department; SPD has no easy way to double-check to ensure that they’re telling the truth.

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If an officer works too many hours in a week, or if they work an off-duty job without a permit from the department, they can be subject to an OPA investigation. However, according to OPA Director Andrew Myerberg, it’s hard for his office to catch violations of secondary employment policies. “If we’re going to come across secondary employment-related misconduct, it’s almost always tangentially,” he said. For example, the OPA sometimes discovers that an officer lacks a permit when a civilian complains about the officer’s behavior at an off-duty job.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, opportunities for an officer seeking off-duty work were boundless. A list of secondary employment contracts from 2019-2020 shows more than 300 officers—nearly a quarter of the force—working for dozens of private and public employers, ranging from Seattle Public Utilities to Dick’s Drive-In and the Paramount Theater. Because Seattle only allows sworn police officers to take traffic control jobs, many officers find work directing traffic outside busy downtown garages or at construction sites.

SPOG, which represents SPD officers, detectives and sergeants, sets the minimum hourly rates for its members’ off-duty work. The guild didn’t respond to PubliCola’s request for updated hourly rates, but a public document from 2019 listed a minimum hourly rate of $52 for an off-duty officer or detective working as a security guard and $55 for an officer or detective working in traffic control. However, because police officers have exclusive domain over traffic control jobs and can negotiate even higher rates, several downtown garage owners told the Seattle Times in 2017 that an officer demanded and received as much as $120 an hour. Continue reading “How Reforms for Off-Duty Police Work Died on the Vine”