We posted on our blog last week telling you why we filed a brief in federal court about the Seattle police contract. Today, we want to give you a more in-depth look at one of the many major issues in the contract that weaken police accountability.
That weakness is the city’s abandonment of reforms to off-duty police work, often referred to as secondary employment.
That might not seem like a big deal, but just over a year ago it led to a serious controversy in the police department.
When you’re at a public event like a football game or a concert, you’re likely to see Seattle police officers. You’re also likely to see officers in other places around town, such as helping to direct traffic outside of busy downtown garages. It may surprise you to know that these officers may not be “on the clock” for the Seattle Police Department but are actually working a second job providing security, even though they are uniform, carrying a sidearm, and have all the actual and apparent authority of an on-duty police officer. This is known as secondary employment. To the public, they are and appear to be police officers.
Needless to say, the rules for their conduct when they serve private employers are extremely important.
But in September 2017, new information about actual and potential corruption came to light that led to an FBI investigation. Seattle police officers, with the help of the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild (SPOG), were accused of engaging in intimidation and price-fixing in the secondary employment market.
One Seattle police officer described the system as akin to the Mafia, and said it was virtually immune to the efforts of Seattle Police Department commanders to control it.
That officer also reportedly said, “No one is going to f**k with these jobs if they know what’s good for them.” That information was made public in a detailed memo to the Office of Police Accountability and the police chief.
The landmark 2017 Accountability Legislation included a plan to address secondary employment concerns. Then after the corruption allegations came to light, then-Mayor Tim Burgess issued an executive order to expedite the implementation of overdue corrections.
Part of that order read, “The Seattle police department … shall establish an internal office, directed and staffed by civilians, to regulate and manage the secondary employment of its employees.”
What the new police officers contract changed
All of those reforms were wiped away in the SPOG Contract submitted by Mayor Jenny Durkan and approved by the city council in November, despite the concerns of dozens of community groups.
The SPOG contract says the secondary employment system will be as it was in 1992. It completely undoes reforms called for in the Accountability Ordinance and executive order, setting the secondary employment system back a full 25 years.
That leaves the community back at square one, which is incredibly damaging their confidence in their police department. And secondary employment is just one of the many weaknesses in the contract that breaks promises to the community.
What we want the court to do
We’re asking the federal court to tell the city it needs to fix the damage done by the contract before the court will end the consent decree.
This isn’t a recommendation the CPC makes lightly. But after years of effort, the community deserves a strong police accountability system. They deserve for their elected leaders to uphold the promises made in the landmark Accountability Ordinance, which was passed unanimously by the city council just a year and a half ago.
If we can’t make these reforms now, when all eyes are on police accountability and the city is under a consent decree, why would city leaders think we’ll be able to make them sometime in the future after federal oversight has ended?