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Originally published Tuesday, February 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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City, police union to meet on panel's oversight changes

While Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels intends to make some immediate changes to the city's system of police oversight, most of the substantive...

Seattle Times staff reporter

While Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels intends to make some immediate changes to the city's system of police oversight, most of the substantive recommendations from an expert panel will require discussion, and possible labor negotiations, with the officers union.

"We are very much hoping to create an atmosphere of cooperation where the police unions and city work together to resolve this in a short time frame and not taking months or certainly not years," Nickels said during a Monday conference. He declined to set a deadline.

The panel, which included former Gov. Gary Locke and former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, last week presented Nickels with 29 recommendations on how to improve police oversight and discipline.

Nickels plans to move forward with 15 changes he believes he can make using his executive authority, and to discuss 11 more with the Seattle Police Officers' Guild. Three of the recommendations fall under the City Council's authority.

The panel said all the changes should be made as soon as possible to build public support for police after complaints that Chief Gil Kerlikowske does not adequately discipline officers accused of misconduct.

Guild President Rich O'Neill said his legal staff is still reviewing which changes the mayor has the authority to make and which would require labor negotiations.

While the city and union are negotiating a new contract now, a mediator has said new proposals cannot be made until the next round of contract negotiations, O'Neill said, which would start in 2010.

"I'm encouraged by the fact that the mayor is acknowledging first of all that things have to be bargained and that he's respecting the labor-law process," O'Neill said.

Discussions on the panel's recommendations will begin Monday. Panel Chair Terrence Carroll, a retired judge, called it a "good sign" the guild is willing to discuss the proposals. "I am glad there is this prompt reaction," he said.

The panel's proposals are aimed at strengthening civilian oversight of the department, imposing stricter discipline on officers and providing the public with more information about internal investigations.

Under the current system, complaints about police misconduct are investigated by the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), a civilian-led unit within the department. That office is overseen by a civilian auditor outside of the department and a citizens review board.

The panel's most critical recommendation called for expanding the role of the auditor, who now reviews ongoing internal investigations, to looking at all cases and recommending policy changes.

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Nickels said that recommendation required discussion with the union.

Locke, an attorney, said he's "very, very pleased" by the mayor's plan but didn't believe changing the auditor's role required bargaining. "We're talking about auditing the management of the police department. The union does not represent management."

Mike McKay, a former U.S. attorney in Seattle who also served on the panel, agreed with Locke's assessment.

McKay said Nickels "is not going to try to ram through something" but the mayor also has "real political capital" to use, given the makeup of the panel and the fact its conclusions were unanimous.

McKay said the guild should embrace the proposals because they would boost public confidence in the police and make their jobs easier. Otherwise, he said, the union risks damaging its credibility.

The mayor will also discuss with the guild the following panel recommendations:

• The Police Department should presume officers who are dishonest in their official duties will be terminated.

• Officers should not be allowed to use overtime or vacation pay when they have been suspended without pay.

• Internal investigation records should be made public to the maximum extent allowed by law.

• The OPA director should have the ability to hire the panel's deputy director and the OPA investigators.• The police chief should explain in writing when he or she disagrees with recommendations made by the OPA director on internal investigations.

The changes Nickels will make immediately include proposals for the OPA office to have its own budget, for the oversight agencies to work more closely together and to provide more training to staff who conduct internal investigations.

Three of the recommendations, which would change the size and responsibilities of the review board, fall under the City Council's authority, and the mayor believes two of them will also require discussion with the guild.

Seattle Times staff reporter Steve Miletich contributed to this report.

Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or schan@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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