New pact with Seattle Police Guild boosts service, strengthens oversight
This week, the Seattle City Council began consideration of legislation that will usher in a new — and long overdue — era for...
Special to The Times
This week, the Seattle City Council began consideration of legislation that will usher in a new — and long overdue — era for police work in our city.
The council will review and ratify a new labor agreement with the Seattle Police Officers' Guild. This contract will fundamentally alter policing in Seattle by recognizing the training, skills and professional service of our officers; rewarding them fairly; and adjusting their deployment for greater effectiveness.
Once ratified, the new contract will raise compensation levels for Seattle officers to the highest in Washington. These increases will help resolve long-term issues of recruitment and attrition. New officers will see a 36-percent jump in salary (to $64,300 over the four-year term of the contract), plus additional hiring incentives and moving allowances. Twelve-year veterans, as one example, will realize a 25.6-percent increase, to $90,500.
Since announcement of the new contract terms, officer recruitment has soared, and the department is now ahead of pace to achieve its 98-officer hiring target for this year.
The contract will also dramatically change — for the first time in at least 35 years — how officers are deployed. Three patrol shifts will become six, some overlapping at critical, high-demand time periods. Officers will be assigned based on where and when they are most needed, predicated on 911-call patterns, crime statistics and other key factors.
The previous system forced officers into a reactive stance. Under this new system, officers will be able to engage in positive, proactive efforts: getting out of their cars, meeting citizens in their districts, getting acquainted with neighborhood kids and business owners, following crime leads and uncovering evidence.
The City Council will also debate and adopt improvements to police oversight, accountability and transparency policies.
Last year, Mayor Greg Nickels appointed a special civilian panel to examine how the city might upgrade oversight of police conduct. In January, this panel, led by former Superior Court Judge Terry Carroll, issued 29 specific recommendations aimed at increasing public confidence in our police officers and their work.
The new labor contract, along with the additional ordinances the City Council will consider, adopts every one of these 29 recommendations — plus an additional one, which I advocated, that increases the authority of the civilian auditor.
These changes will strengthen Seattle's three-part system of police oversight:
• The civilian-led Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), which receives and investigates complaints of misconduct;
• The independent civilian auditor, who reviews investigations, and;
• The OPA Review Board, which evaluates the complaint-handling process and monitors trends.
The OPA will strengthen communication with complainants, ensuring they are updated on the status of their case. The civilian auditor's ability to review investigations in real time will be formalized, and the position will receive new authority to direct further investigation as appropriate. The OPA Review Board will be expanded to seven members and the scope of its work enlarged to provide leadership on citizen communication.
The Review Board is crucial to this system of police accountability. That's why the City Council will soon appoint seven highly respected individuals to begin new terms of service on the board. Each has the disposition, perspective and life experience to inspire confidence among members of the community and our police officers.
We demand the absolute best from our officers, even under trying circumstances and when no one is watching. They serve as our eyes, our hands. They serve at our behest and are accountable to us. The upcoming changes in our police oversight system will help underscore this reality.Tim Burgess is a member of the Seattle City Council and chair of the Public Safety, Human Services, and Education Committee. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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