Urban Politics #348: Public Hearing on Seattle’s Police Accountability System

Home » Urban Politics #348: Public Hearing on Seattle’s Police Accountability System

The City Council and the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board (OPARB) will jointly sponsor a public hearing as directed by Ordinance 122809, adopted in 2008 and sponsored by myself and Councilmember Tim Burgess.  The hearing will allow us to hear directly from the public before the City begins labor negotiations with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG). The comments from the public hearing will help inform deliberations on the upcoming negotiations.

WHAT:  Public Hearing on renewal of Seattle Police Officer’s Guild (SPOG) Contract

WHEN:  6:00 p.m., Tuesday, April 22

WHERE:  Council Chambers, 2nd floor, Seattle City Hall, 600 Fourth Avenue, Seattle 98104


Police Accountability has been a long time interest of mine. At my urgings, the City Council sponsored its first public hearing on the City’s police accountability system in 2006. It was called by some an “historic moment.” It was the first time in Seattle that a public hearing was held in advance of police union labor negotiations on a new labor contract.  The hearing provided elected officials an opportunity to hear directly from the public about what should be included in the new contract with Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG). (See Urban Politics 215).

Back in 2008 I co-sponsored legislation that required the City Council and the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board to jointly hold a public hearing on police accountability at least ninety days before the City begins collective bargaining on a new contract with the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild (SPOG) or the Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA).

Because police accountability is a “condition of employment,” many aspects of it must be bargained with the police labor unions before it is included in a labor contract.  Labor negotiations are very different from the usual legislative process and they are confidential.

The appropriate time to hear from the public regarding their thoughts, concerns and issues on the subject of police accountability is prior to the City beginning negotiations with SPOG. That information can then guide the LRPC in determining the broad goals for contract negotiations.  The City and SPOG will be beginning labor negotiations in the upcoming months.

One issue that has been recently suggested that should be a goal for the upcoming negotiations relates to how the appellate and grievance processes stemming from complaints of possible misconduct do not reflect the values of transparency and accountability underlying the OPA (Office of Professional Accountability). I have written about that issue in a recent Urban Politics. The OPA Auditor, Judge Anne Levinson, has written a special review about the problem as well. She makes a number of very reasonable recommendations, among them is to require that any hearings for police disciplinary cases be open to the public. But they are all important, and I encourage readers to review her report.  Finally, the Community Police Commission (CPC) accountability workgroup is responsible for leading the CPC’s review of SPD’s accountability system, including the structure and practices of the OPA.  They too will have important recommendations.

The Executive and the Council develop the broad goals for contract negotiations for all of the City’s labor contracts. Labor Relations Policy (LRPC) committee has 5 Councilmembers and other members appointed by the Executive. The process for developing these goals for contract negotiations requires strict confidentiality by state law and city ordinance. Confidentiality of what is being proposed, discussed and considered must be maintained to allow the parties to freely exchange ideas and work towards an agreement free of influences neither shared by the employer nor the employees.

Once they begin, labor negotiations do not allow for public involvement. By law, the public is not a direct party to the process itself. The public interest is represented by the elected officials involved in the process.

After next week’s public hearing, I intend to introduce, like we did in 2006, a resolution recognizing the content of the public input and saying that the City will consider in good faith whether and how to carry forward the interests expressed at the public hearing.