loader from loading.io

RE-AIR: How the SPOG Contract Stands in the Way of Police Accountability with Shannon Cheng

Hacks & Wonks

Release Date: 12/01/2023

Week in Review: March 1, 2024 - with Rich Smith show art Week in Review: March 1, 2024 - with Rich Smith

Hacks & Wonks

On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Editor of The Stranger and noted poet, Rich Smith! Crystal and Rich discuss the significance of the Stranger endorsing “Uncommitted Delegates” in the March 12th Presidential Primary. They then celebrate the legislature’s passage of the Strippers’ Bill of Rights and mourn the deaths of rent stabilization and even-year elections at the hands of the Senate Ways & Means Committee. Finally, they cover Seattle City Council’s inexcusable silencing of protesters with arrest. As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and...

info_outline
Week in Review: February 23, 2024 - with Matt Driscoll show art Week in Review: February 23, 2024 - with Matt Driscoll

Hacks & Wonks

On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll! With two weeks left in the State legislative session, Crystal and Matt dig into several bills with potential for huge impact and needing public support to get across the finish line - HB 2114 (rent stabilization), HB 1932 (even-year elections), and SB 6105 (Stripper Bill of Rights). See the resources section for links to contact your legislators about each of these bills! Next, they discuss the promise of the City of Tacoma’s detailed Anti-Displacement strategy,...

info_outline
Why Seattle’s Proposed Surveillance Mash-Up is a Lose-Lose with Amy Sundberg and BJ Last of Solidarity Budget show art Why Seattle’s Proposed Surveillance Mash-Up is a Lose-Lose with Amy Sundberg and BJ Last of Solidarity Budget

Hacks & Wonks

On this topical show, special guest host Shannon Cheng welcomes back Amy Sundberg and BJ Last from Solidarity Budget to discuss how the City of Seattle is rushing to bring three surveillance technologies to the streets of Seattle with minimal public input - a final public meeting happens next week on Tuesday, February 27th, 6pm! Amy and BJ fill Shannon in on Seattle’s Surveillance Impact Report process and their concerns that three technologies - Acoustic Gunshot Location System (AGLS, aka ShotSpotter), Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV), and Real-Time Crime Center (RTCC) - are being rushed...

info_outline
Week in Review: February 16, 2024 - with Robert Cruickshank show art Week in Review: February 16, 2024 - with Robert Cruickshank

Hacks & Wonks

On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, long time communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank! Crystal and Robert chat about Raise the Wage Renton’s special election win, how a rent stabilization bill passed out of the State House but faces an uphill battle in the State Senate, and the authorization of a strike by Alaska Airlines flight attendants. They then shift to how gender discrimination problems in the Seattle Police Department create a toxic work culture that impedes recruitment, the inexplicable pressing forward by Seattle on...

info_outline
Week in Review: February 9, 2024 - with David Kroman show art Week in Review: February 9, 2024 - with David Kroman

Hacks & Wonks

On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Seattle Times City Hall reporter, David Kroman! Crystal and David dig into why Seattle is putting less money into new affordable housing project this year and how this week’s launch of a second social housing initiative by House Our Neighbors may be appealing to voters wanting to see progress on the issue. Next, they discuss the pressure on Mayor Bruce Harrell to deliver results now that a City Council friendly to his agenda has taken office and how the new Council’s relative inexperience was on display at initial committee meetings. Finally,...

info_outline
Harm Reduction in Rural Washington with Everett Maroon of Blue Mountain Heart to Heart show art Harm Reduction in Rural Washington with Everett Maroon of Blue Mountain Heart to Heart

Hacks & Wonks

On this topical show, Crystal welcomes Everett Maroon, Executive Director of Blue Mountain Heart to Heart, for a conversation about their work in Southeast Washington using a harm reduction philosophy to support people, stabilize lives, & promote health and wellness in the community. Crystal and Everett chat about how the opioid epidemic has impacted rural communities, the role that stigma plays in keeping people from the help they need, what harm reduction is and why it is important. They then review the recent roller coaster ride of Washington state’s substance use disorder policy,...

info_outline
Week in Review: February 2, 2024 - with Erica Barnett show art Week in Review: February 2, 2024 - with Erica Barnett

Hacks & Wonks

On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Seattle political reporter and editor of PubliCola, Erica Barnett! Crystal and Erica discuss public outcry over targeted inspections of LGBTQ+ establishments and Seattle Council President Sara Nelson’s remarks opposing even-year elections for local races. They then turn to news from King County that the target closure date of 2025 for the Youth Jail will be missed and how the annual “Point In Time” homelessness count will be different this year. The show wraps up with new polling that Seattle voters are supportive of a big Transportation Levy...

info_outline
Pairing Advocacy and Research for Progress with Andrew Villeneuve of the Northwest Progressive Institute show art Pairing Advocacy and Research for Progress with Andrew Villeneuve of the Northwest Progressive Institute

Hacks & Wonks

On this topical show, Crystal welcomes Andrew Villeneuve, founder of the Northwest Progressive Institute! Crystal learns about the Northwest Progressive Institute’s (NPI) work to advance progressive policies through their focuses on research and advocacy, what’s covered in NPI’s long form blog The Cascadia Advocate, and the importance of reframing in progressive politics. Andrew then describes how six initiatives bankrolled by a disgruntled wealthy Republican are designed to cause a lot of damage to Washington, how NPI’s careful approach to polling has led to successful results, and...

info_outline
Week in Review: January 26, 2024 - with Daniel Beekman show art Week in Review: January 26, 2024 - with Daniel Beekman

Hacks & Wonks

On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Seattle Times politics and communities reporter, Daniel Beekman! Crystal and Daniel discuss the unsurprising Seattle City Council vacancy appointment and what we might see from a business-backed, Harrell-picked legislative body as they navigate a hiring freeze, a large budget deficit, and upcoming important policy decisions. Next, they turn to the Office of Police Accountability’s conclusion that SPOG Vice President Auderer’s comments about Jaahnavi Kandula’s death were “​​derogatory, contemptuous, and inhumane” and speculate how Chief...

info_outline
The Raise the Wage Renton Campaign with Maria Abando and Renton City Councilmember Carmen Rivera show art The Raise the Wage Renton Campaign with Maria Abando and Renton City Councilmember Carmen Rivera

Hacks & Wonks

On this topical show, Crystal welcomes Renton City Councilmember Carmen Rivera and Raise the Wage Renton Steering Committee member Maria Abando to learn more about the upcoming citizen initiative on the February 13th special election ballot. Modeled after the successful Raise the Wage Tukwila initiative that passed with over 80% of the vote in 2022, community organizers in Renton are campaigning to raise their city’s minimum wage to keep up with surrounding cities like SeaTac, Tukwila, and Seattle. Maria and Carmen discuss how the ability to earn a living wage uplifts everyone, the signature...

info_outline
 
More Episodes

On this topical show re-air, Shannon Cheng of People Power Washington joins Crystal to dive into the intricacies of how the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) contract stands in the way of police accountability. With negotiations already underway, Crystal and Shannon talk about what we should be looking for in the next SPOG contract and why police accountability is important. An overview of the historic difficulty bargaining with SPOG highlights how the City has been left with a lacking accountability system, how the community has struggled to have their interests represented at the table, and how the Seattle Police Department has fallen out of compliance with its consent decree. With little insight into the closed-door negotiations with SPOG, Crystal and Shannon look for signs in recent agreements with other local police unions where progress in accountability reforms was paired with officer wage increases.

As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.

Follow us on Twitter at @HacksWonks. Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find Shannon Cheng at @drbestturtle and People Power Washington at @PeoplePowerWA.

 

Shannon Cheng

Shannon Cheng is the Chair of People Power Washington, a grassroots volunteer organization which champions policies that divest from police and reinvest in community-based solutions and alternate crisis response, decriminalize non-serious offenses, and implement accountability and enforceable standards for police officers and agencies. People Power Washington was instrumental in the passage of the 2020 King County charter amendments to reform public safety, and continues to be involved with public safety advocacy in the City of Seattle, King County, and Washington State Legislature.

Shannon holds a Bachelor and Master of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She continued her graduate work at MIT and earned a PhD in Space Propulsion with a Minor in Geology/Geophysics because she loves rocks.

Since graduating, Shannon has been working on computational lighting technology with her husband, becoming a passionate orienteer, and organizing in support of civil liberties — from immigrants’ rights to voting rights to criminal justice reform.

 

Resources

Sign up for the People Power Washington mailing list

 

Police Management Contract, Which Includes Concessions, Could Serve as Template for SPOG Negotiations” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola

 

Timeline of Seattle Police Accountability | ACLU of Washington

 

As negotiations with city loom, Seattle’s police union has had an outsized influence on police accountability measures” by Mike Carter from The Seattle Times

 

Public Employees' Collective Bargaining Act | Revised Code of Washington

 

Officials Announce Changes to Police Union Negotiation Strategy, But Accountability and Bargaining Experts Say More Should Be Done” by Paul Kiefer from PubliCola

 

New King County police contract increases pay, body cams, and civilian oversight” by Amy Radil from KUOW

 

King County strikes deal with union for bodycams on sheriff’s deputies” by Daniel Gutman from The Seattle Times

 

Seattle police union elects hard-line candidate as president in landslide vote” by Steve Miletich and Daniel Beekman from The Seattle Times

 

Seattle approves new police contract, despite community pushback” by David Kroman from Crosscut

 

Transcript

[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.

Today, I am thrilled to be welcoming a crucial clutch member of our team and absolute talented woman in her own right, Dr. Shannon Cheng. Welcome to the show.

[00:01:05] Shannon Cheng: Hi, Crystal - excited to be here.

[00:01:08] Crystal Fincher: Excited to have you here. Now, you wear many hats. One of those is as Chair of People Power Washington - Police Accountability. Can you just let us know a little bit about the organization and what brought you to the work?

[00:01:21] Shannon Cheng: People Power Washington - we're a volunteer-run, grassroots group focused on bringing equitable public safety and police accountability. We focus on several geographic areas - we started off working in Seattle - we also do work in King County as well as now Washington State. We're working at different levels of government because our experience was - working at the city level - we found out there were some things that really had to be taken care of at the state level and vice versa. We started off in 2017, right around when the Seattle Police Accountability Ordinance was passed, and that's how we got involved more deeply and have continued. And then in 2020, when the summer protests were happening, a lot of people came out of the woodwork really wanting to get involved with this issue in particular. And so our group's really expanded and that's why we added on King County to some of the work that we do.

[00:02:14] Crystal Fincher: When it comes to police accountability, really wanted to have this show because over and over again, no matter what direction we come at it from, it seems like one of the biggest barriers to accountability that we always hear is the police union contracts. And we hear from the police chiefs, from the mayors that, Oh, that would be great to do, but we can't do it because of the contract. Or we hear about discipline that has been taken, that is then reversed after arbitration, because of things having to do with the contract. So I really wanted to talk about and examine that, especially because that contract is currently being renegotiated. So why is this so important and what's at stake?

[00:02:59] Shannon Cheng: As we have been working on trying to get better police accountability in Seattle specifically, what our group kept running up against - any kind of progress that was trying to be made, any solution that was being suggested to try to improve the system - the barrier we kept running up against and being told was, Well, that has to be bargained in the SPOG contract. And SPOG is the Seattle Police Officers Guild - they're the police union in Seattle that represents our officers and sergeants. There's another police union also - the SPMA, the Seattle Police Management Association - which represents the lieutenants and captains. But SPOG is the main one that is constantly standing in the way.

And so I think one thing that - I think when we talk about police accountability, it's helpful to think about are there are these different branches of accountability and we have obstacles along all of those paths. So when we talk about police accountability, I think it's important to realize there's several different tracks that we can try to hold police accountability and then understanding what are the obstacles that are in each of those tracks. So the first one would be criminal accountability. This is where the state would charge an officer. And we have seen a lot of issues with that where we don't have an independent prosecutor who is willing to bring charges against a police officer. Oftentimes the investigations that are done that would lead to charges being brought are not being done in a way that doesn't have conflicts of interest. So that's something that's being worked on. There's also civil liability, where a person who has suffered distress at the hands of a police officer would be able to bring civil charges and get redress in that fashion. On the federal level, that is what is blocked by qualified immunity. People may have heard of that, where if the case is not exactly been decided with this exact same parameters in a previous precedent, then people are not able to get their case through. Another avenue of accountability is regulatory, which would be decertifying a police officer who has fallen beneath the standards that have been set for what a police officer should do.

And then the final one that I think that many people think about a lot is what I would call administrative accountability. And this is done at the local level in our local police departments - and it has to do with how we can impose discipline on police officers at the local level. So when the police chief - as you were saying, Crystal - decides that an officer was acting in a way that they need to be disciplined, then that's what we call administrative accountability. And so the reason that the SPOG contract is so important is that it basically dictates how the City can impose accountability onto our officers. And so everything that ever happens that has to do with looking into how the officer may have behaved, or deciding whether that was within policy, and then if it was not within policy, what kind of discipline can be imposed, or even whether that discipline sticks - all of that is tied up into what is agreed upon between the City and the Seattle Police Officers Guild in their contract.

[00:06:29] Crystal Fincher: So when we hear accountability being talked about, there are actually specific policies and things that - many people have looked at this contract process and best practices around the country and have come out with. What are the recommendations that are specifically being made for the next SPOG contract? What should the public be looking to get out of this?

[00:06:54] Shannon Cheng: Yeah - I think at a minimum - the next SPOG contract should be in alignment with the recently negotiated contract with the Seattle Police Management Association. We were able to get things such as subpoena power for the Office of Police Accountability and the Office of Inspector General through that contract. We also were able to restructure the disciplinary review process so that it was less biased towards officers getting discipline overturned in arbitration. I think there was also a clear definition of what honesty means for police officers, which is very important. So yes, minimum is what happened in the SPMA contract. And then beyond that, it should go further and not block anything from the 2017 accountability ordinance - so things such as being able to civilianize the Office of Police Accountability so that we don't have the conflict of interest of officers investigating other officers. And then I think a broader conversation that the City has been trying to but has been hampered is talking about what kind of alternative public safety response that we might want to be able to have other than sending an armed officer. I think there's been a lot of concern that the SPOG contract, as written, could lead to an unfair labor practice claim by the union if Seattle moves forward with any kind of pilot. And so this is what has been holding us back in ways that a lot of other cities around the country have been able to move forward.

[00:08:29] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And cities in our area have been able to move forward. Seattle appears to be behind the curve when it comes to things like the holistic types of responses - to be able to send an appropriate response to whatever the emergency is, which isn't always an armed police officer - it may be a social worker, someone who can address substance use disorder, or different things to address those issues that just can't be handled by a police officer with a gun or through our criminal system.

So I think having those things in mind is really important as we continue to move through this in this conversation. And this is a really challenging issue for people to deal with because of the messaging environment and the way that the politics of the situation has unfolded. Because there are some folks - we've heard repeatedly from the head of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, who has been known for making incendiary statements before, and this kind of feeling or proposition that police accountability is inherently anti-police. When I think - on the ground - most people, even if they don't mind having the police show up and seeing them all over the place, is that we all have standards for our jobs, for our performance, how we should deal with other people, and there are rules. And if those rules are broken, there should be some kind of accountability attached to that. If you are not doing what you're supposed to be doing, if you're abusing others on the job - that, in every other circumstance, is grounds for usually immediate termination. But we're finding nearly the opposite in terms of the police. I think a lot of people are challenged by the notion that, Hey, why am I held accountable for being able to de-escalate a situation, follow the rules and regulations of my job. Yet people who have control over other people's human and civil rights don't have that and a big challenge having to do with that. So as we navigate this - I guess starting off - how do you think of and characterize and do this work, and refute those kinds of accusations and challenges?

[00:11:07] Shannon Cheng: I think it's important to remember that police officers and law enforcement are given special extra powers that a lot of the rest of us don't have. They have state-sanctioned power to take away life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. So they have direct control over the civil and constitutional rights of people in situations. And we trust them to uphold the Constitution and not overstep bounds - and that's what we would expect to see. Unfortunately, that's not what happens a lot of the time and that's where we do need accountability to come into play - when people's rights have been violated.

[00:11:55] Crystal Fincher: Okay, so we've talked about the different types of police accountability. We've talked about administrative accountability. I just want to review where we're at in this process, specifically, when it comes to the Seattle Police Officers Guild contract.

[00:12:12] Shannon Cheng: Okay, so the current Seattle Police Officers Guild contract expired at the end of 2020. So currently the officers are working without a current contract and the City and the union are under negotiations for the next contract. We don't have much visibility into when the next step is going to happen and we don't know what parameters they are going to be bargaining.

[00:12:43] Crystal Fincher: So right now they're operating without a contract and that means the current contract continues. And we had this conversation, or we had a public conversation about this - not many people were probably tuned into that conversation - before the last contract negotiation. What went into that contract negotiation and how does that tee up what's at stake in this contract?

[00:13:05] Shannon Cheng: Yeah, the previous contract negotiation was finished in the end of 2018. And so that contract had already been overdue for several years. And one of the reasons it took so long to negotiate is that the City of Seattle has been under consent decree since 2012 - so 10 years - and what that means is that the Department of Justice came in, did an investigation into officers at the bequest of many community organizations, and found that there was unconstitutional policing happening in the City of Seattle. So basically the federal government is providing our local law enforcement oversight and trying to bring them back into compliance with the Constitution. So as part of that - in 2017, the City of Seattle passed an ordinance that established a police accountability system that at the time was hailed as being a landmark accountability system, that had three branches - people may have heard of them. There's the OPA, which is the Office of Police Accountability - their job is to do investigations and suggest discipline that the chief will then apply. There's also the OIG, which is the Office of Inspector General, which is observing and making systemic recommendations to the system. And then finally there was the CPC, which is the Community Police Commission, and their role was to bring community voices in - it was the community that originally brought up issues with how policing was being done in Seattle, and so this was to continue to let them have a voice into how we rectify the system.

So the issue is that that ordinance passed into City law in 2017, but it was not actually implementable until the next SPOG contract was negotiated with the officers. And in 2018, 18 months after that landmark law got passed, a SPOG contract got ratified which basically rolled back a lot of the provisions from the police accountability ordinance. And so there was a lot of community outcry - many groups came out, including the CPC, to ask that the City Council and the mayor reject that contract because it basically did not honor what - all the work that had been done to try to put a workable system into place.

[00:15:43] Crystal Fincher: We're picking up this contract negotiation again here - that's currently being negotiated. I think a lot of people are looking at this - looking at the conflicting statements that we've heard from the mayor between what was said while on the campaign trail and what has been said after he was elected to office, in addition to some leaked comments. So in this particular contract, what are the things that are important to get out of it to ensure the kind of accountability that we've talked about, to ensure that people are treated in accordance with the law, in accordance with regulations. And that's not to say that they can't do their jobs, just that they should be able to do it correctly. What are the most important things to consider here?

[00:16:36] Shannon Cheng: I think the contract really needs to allow us to see what a robust accountability system could do. I think there's this assumption that because we have the existence of these three bodies - the CPC, the OPA, and the OIG - that we have a working accountability system, and people often blame that system for not imposing the accountability. But the truth is that that system has not been able to be fully implemented because of the restrictions put on it by the 2018 SPOG contract. So since that contract passed, we've had incidents where the federal judge overseeing this consent decree ruled the City out of compliance on the issue of accountability specifically. There was a famous case where an officer's discipline got overturned in arbitration because the arbitrator decided that the chief's firing wouldn't stand.

[00:17:32] Crystal Fincher: So that must be really a fundamental challenge that really speaks to the culture of the department. If you're trying to weed out - as they would call it - bad apples. They are constantly saying, This doesn't represent all of the officers and all that kind of stuff. Well, if it doesn't, then this is an issue of culture and you have to be able to weed out those bad apples in order to avoid spoiling the whole bunch, as the rest of that saying goes. But if those people are still winding back on the force - was that the case where an officer was - punched a handcuffed woman and broke her jaw, which is not supposed to happen as most people can deduce - and was actually fired by the chief, which is a high bar to clear. They cleared that bar, but were put back in the job through arbitration. What does that do to other officers? What does that say to other officers, especially when you hear the kinds of things coming from the head of the union - that come from them - and some of the really inflammatory things that really make it hard to believe that police are viewing every member of the public equally and doing their job impartially, and really putting the health and safety of the public as their primary priority.

As we go through this, many people aren't familiar with union negotiations overall. This is a very different category of union, seeing that they have special privileges and abilities granted to them by the law. They get to impact other people's civil rights and lives. So in just the mechanics of negotiating this contract - it's hard because these negotiations are private - but what is the process of negotiation? How do people go about getting the kinds of concessions that are necessary to ensure that we're all safe?

[00:19:35] Shannon Cheng: I think it's important to first understand that - in Washington State, public sector unions are given the right to collectively bargain under state law. This is the Public Employees' Collective Bargaining Act. This is where a public employer and a public sector union and their exclusive bargaining representative will sit down at a table and hash out personnel matters such as wages, hours, working conditions, as well as grievance procedures. Under this state act, police guilds and associations fall into a special category - they're classified as uniformed personnel, and so they are considered vital to the welfare and public safety of the State of Washington. So what this means is that - if in the course of doing the collective bargaining with one of these unions they can't reach an agreement, that union is not allowed to go on strike. Because of that, the Public Employees' Collective Bargaining Act then gives them the opportunity to instead go to a third-party arbitrator to decide the disputes about the contract. And then the Washington Open Public Meetings Act is what says that all these negotiations for collective bargaining are behind closed doors.

So effectively, what this means is that the public has very little insight into what's happening. And for many unions that's reasonable, but as we discussed before - for police unions in particular, they have a lot of power and influence and impact, and they deal with the public nearly day to day in their jobs. And so how that happens and when things go wrong, the public has a deep interest into making sure that our interests are represented. So the way that - practically speaking - these negotiations happen at the City is that the two parties are the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Officers Guild. So on the City side, we're represented by the Labor Relations Policy Committee. In the past, this was effectively only representatives from the mayor's office or direct reports from under the mayor. After getting burned so badly with that 2018 SPOG contract, there's been a lot of effort to change that so that other bodies have more input. So for example, the City Council has five representatives that sit on that committee and they have been able to get a City Council staffer to be able to be at the table for this round of negotiations. In addition, because accountability has been such a difficult point for them to negotiate at the table, they wanted to have an outside expert - with specific technical expertise about the accountability system - to be also present at the table. So that didn't quite happen. Instead, what they are having is representatives from our three accountability bodies able to be present only for the part of negotiations about accountability. So that's who's sitting at the table from the City side. And then SPOG has their representatives to represent the police union.

So as I said, the public has very little input into how these negotiations are proceeding. The City Council did hold public hearings back in the fall of 2019 - ahead of the start of these negotiations - to get input into what the public would be interested in seeing. The issue is - 2019, at this point, is several years ago, and a lot has happened since then in this area, and the conversation and discourse has changed, I think, fueled by what happened in the summer of 2020 and all the protests that broke out. But collective bargaining is a lengthy process. It takes a long time. It's going to take several years. We expect to hopefully see a tentative SPOG contract come out sometime in this next stretch. But until it does, we really have very little insight into what is happening and what is being traded back and forth between the two sides.

[00:23:54] Crystal Fincher: Okay. And just going through what the - continuing through what the process would be once they do come to an agreement in the negotiation - what are the steps to then get it approved officially?

[00:24:08] Shannon Cheng: Right. So if a tentative agreement is reached, then the members of the Seattle Police Officers Guild will vote to see whether their guild would accept the contract. If a majority of them agree, then the tentative collective bargaining agreement would be sent to City Council for ratification. A majority of City Council members would have to vote for that. And if it passed out of City Council, then the mayor would have to actually sign the agreement. And then that would make the agreement official.

[00:24:39] Crystal Fincher: Okay. And if they can't come to an agreement, what happens?

[00:24:46] Shannon Cheng: Yeah, so if they can't come to an agreement - under state law, it could go to interest arbitration. And so this is where a third party arbitrator would make a binding decision on the topics of the contract that they have not been able to come to agreement with. I think historically - going to interest arbitration has been considered risky for the City because these arbitrators would look at like agreements from around the country to make their decision about what seemed fair or not. And this problem is not just in Seattle where we're having difficulty having good contracts with our police union - this happens around the country. So I think the sense has been that if we looked at other contracts, those would tend to lean towards the police union and not be in our favor. I think there are some who feel that - after the protests of 2020, that situation may have changed a little bit. And another note is that that other police union we talked about in Seattle that represents the captains and lieutenants, the SPMA - they recently negotiated a contract that did include more of the progress we would want to see in accountability. So it's possible that if SPOG had to go to arbitration and they looked at this other contract from the same city, that they would agree that SPOG should do the same.

[00:26:16] Crystal Fincher: So what are the signs and signals that we're getting from this current negotiation? Where does it look like things stand? It's hard because so much of the process is opaque, but what have you been able to glean?

[00:26:31] Shannon Cheng: Yeah. So about the specific SPOG negotiations themselves - that as they're happening now - very little. It is very opaque, as you said. But so instead we can try to look at these hopeful signs of other police guilds that have had their contracts negotiated in the recent past. So as I just said, the Seattle Police Management Association contract - that was bargained and passed and accepted this past summer in June 2022. From that contract, SPMA got wage increases that went back retroactively and are pretty in line with sort of the consumer price index. And what Seattle got was that we were finally able to get some of the elements that were missing from that 2017 police accountability ordinance. One thing that has been not available is that our accountability bodies have not had subpoena power over the police department. And so in the SPMA contract, they just didn't mention subpoena power at all - and so because of that exclusion of that term, then it is now granted under the accountability ordinance.

Other improvements that happened was handling how badly arbitration can go sometimes for the City. So trying to - we can't get rid of arbitration as a route for disciplinary appeal, but we can put some guardrails around it. So what they were able to negotiate was that officers couldn't bring new information into the appeal decision. Previously, the initial investigation would happen, the discipline would be decided - and then in the officer's appeal of the decision, they could bring up new information that was not available to the original investigators. And so it was like having another investigation all over again. So they have now said, No, the officer needs to provide all of the information up front and that all needs to be considered first at the first investigation. They also have decided that the arbitrators have to decide whether the chief-imposed discipline was arbitrary or capricious - and if not, they can't overturn the chief's discipline. So these are all positive things that we've seen in the Seattle Police Management Association contract and we would definitely hope to see the same put into the upcoming SPOG contract.

Then in King County, our sheriff's office - they recently reached an agreement with their deputies just this past November and got similar wins. In exchange for pretty generous wage increases, the County has finally been able to get the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight the authority to actually conduct independent investigations as well as subpoena power. These are things that County voters had passed overwhelmingly in charter amendments and then got enshrined in county ordinance, but again, those were being blocked by the police officers guild contract not accepting those changes. So those have both moved forward and I think those are very positive signs that it is possible to sit down at these difficult negotiations with our police guilds and give them fair wage increases. And in exchange, have them accept reasonable accountability measures.

I think unhopeful signs - that I think about - is just how SPOG historically has been a very difficult union to negotiate with. We've just seen that they are much more - they're less willing to give unless they get something in exchange. For example, when we wanted them to start wearing Body-Worn Cameras, we had to pay them extra in order to do that. So things like that give me pause in terms of how negotiations with SPOG would be going - because they have been difficult. I think also their current leadership, the SPOG president, has been very antagonistic and unaligned with a lot of the efforts have been made to try to improve public safety.

[00:31:00] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I agree with the evaluation of not being aligned. You just mentioned the county-wide vote for increased accountability and restructuring the County Sheriff's department to make that possible. Seattle has voted over and over again, both for statutory improvements and for candidates who have promised on the campaign trail to increase accountability measures. Yet there has been really inflammatory positions and statements made that seem to suggest that they think the public just wants to reject that, and you have to hate police in order to want any kind of accountability, and it's just unacceptable to even think about. And over and over again, the public in opinion polls and in elections says the opposite. They do want people to be accountable for performing on the jobs much like they are. We shouldn't expect people - service workers making minimum wage - to be able to de-escalate situations that we don't expect of police, who that's supposed to be one of the things they're trained and expected to do. So I think a definite misalignment between what the public wants and expects, and what SPOG is willing to entertain and discuss.

So since we're in this time without a contract, what are possible outcomes that could happen short of getting a contract, or that could inhibit contract negotiations moving forward?

[00:33:03] Shannon Cheng: I think what's really going to be important with these upcoming negotiations is that the City is taking seriously what the public has over and over said that they want to see - which is we need to have a robust police accountability system that hasn't been watered down and that is allowable by the SPOG contract. In 2018 - at that City Council hearing where they ratified the problematic contract - there were masses of community members who came out. Groups, citizens, many people came out saying, We agree that SPOG has the right to have pay increases, they've been working without a contract for a long time - they deserve to have fair wages and benefits - but not at the cost of throwing out all the work that we've done under the consent decree and trying to put together a system where we have an accountability system that will help build community trust in what this office, this department that is supposedly here to protect and serve us is doing. And unfortunately the other side came out to that same City Council hearing and everybody was just talking past each other. They were just saying things like, We deserve to have raises. If you don't pass this, it means that you think we don't deserve raises. And that is not what the community was saying. They were saying, You deserve a raise, but in exchange, you need to give us accountability. And they just left out the accountability piece completely.

And so I think it's really important that - as the City moves forward, that they listen to what the public has been saying and make sure that we get that accountability this time, not at the expense of this argument of, Oh, well, the officers have been working without a updated contract for too long. Because these negotiations - we know they take a long time - historically they have been. This is not an unknown, they should have been prepared for that, and to know that this would be an argument that was going to be made. So absolutely, they need to tie any increase or benefits that they give - which is our leverage over the police guild - to getting what we want back, which is full implementation of the 2017 police accountability ordinance. At the minimum, they should have the same things that were negotiated and agreed upon in the SPMA contract in the SPOG contract. And then they should go beyond. Right now, we have an issue where the Office of Police Accountability is restricted in the number of civilian investigators that they can have and what kinds of cases those civilian investigators can manage. We have a situation where we have cops investigating cops. And it's cops who then get put back into the system where maybe they're the ones under investigation again. So I think just anybody can see that there's a huge conflict of interest there where - an officer assigned to be an investigator maybe wouldn't want to do the best job of the investigation because they're going to be back working with these same people in a short time period. So we need to really button down and get our accountability system into a situation where it is more in line with what had been celebrated as this groundbreaking, new way of approaching the issue. Because right now, the current system is just really broken.

[00:36:41] Crystal Fincher: It is really broken and I appreciate all the work that you've done, that other organizations have done to - one, highlight and help people see what are the processes and policies behind this brokenness, and what is the path to being able to have more accountability in this system.

I guess heading into - closing this and final words - if people are interested in making a difference in this issue and trying to make sure that we have accountability, it seems like there are a couple different options. One big opportunity is with the elections that we have coming up. You'd mentioned that it's going to take a majority of the council to ratify whatever contract does wind up happening. We will have several open seats coming in this City Council election. So what are the kinds of things that people should be looking to hear from candidates in order to have confidence that they are going to act on the kind of accountability measures that are necessary?

[00:37:51] Shannon Cheng: I think first and foremost, hearing from people that they recognize that there is a problem with the current system. And that they deeply understand that just because we have a system in name, it doesn't mean that the system is working. And that this is all tied up in these contract negotiations. I don't know if by the time elections happen, whether the negotiations will have moved forward or not. But I am sure that whatever contract does come out, more work is going to be needed to be done for the future one. So setting ourselves up for success and having people that even recognize that there is a problem. I think that so often - police officers are given the benefit of the doubt sometimes, and they don't like receiving criticism. Nobody does, but police officers in general get very defensive and it can be hard to stand up to that and push back, especially with a lot of the mainstream narratives that are going around - but somebody who is going to be bold and willing to stand up for what the public wants in the face of all of that pushback.

[00:39:05] Crystal Fincher: That makes sense. What are other ways that the public can help push this in the right direction?

[00:39:10] Shannon Cheng: I think being in touch with your electeds - City Council is important, but honestly, I think the mayor is the one who holds the keys to a lot of how this plays out. So if anybody has the ability to figure out how to tell the mayor that this is absolutely what we want and we will not accept a contract that does not bring our accountability system up to snuff, that's important.

Our group is going to be monitoring and watching for when this contract does get negotiated and comes out, and we'll be looking at it and try to analyze it. We don't know exactly how much time we will have between when that contract comes out and when the City Council vote and mayor signing will happen, but we will be on alert. And so if you're interested and want to receive updates about when that happens and when is an effective time to make your voice heard, you could sign up for our mailing list. If you go to wethepeoplepower.org/join-us, there's a form there where you can sign up. As I said, we also do work at the King County and state levels, but you can have an option to only receive alerts about the areas that you're interested in.

[00:40:24] Crystal Fincher: Thanks for helping us understand the really intricate and confusing process with the contract. And thanks so much - we will be following up on this as we get more news about it.

[00:40:35] Shannon Cheng: Thanks, Crystal.

[00:40:36] Crystal Fincher: Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks, which is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.