Federal judge sets hearing on controversial Wash. police union contract

U.S. District Judge James Robart issued an order Tuesday seeking information on the tentative contract between the city of Seattle and its rank-and-file police union

By Steve Miletich
The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — U.S. District Judge James Robart issued an order Tuesday seeking information on the tentative contract between the city of Seattle and its rank-and-file police union, including whether the agreement complies with court-ordered reforms.

Robart set a Nov. 1 hearing to discuss the agreement, which the Community Police Commission (CPC) has urged the City Council to reject on the grounds it rolls back key reforms in police-accountability legislation enacted by the council last year.

Councilmember M. Lorena González, in launching a council review of the proposal Monday, said she hoped Robart would provide guidance on whether the proposed contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild complies with federally mandated reforms requiring the Seattle Police Department to address excessive force and biased policing.

In his order, Robart said the hearing’s purpose is not to make substantive determinations, but rather to update him on the tentative contract and develop a plan for moving forward consistent with the second phase of the city’s 2012 consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department.

Robart found the Police Department in full compliance with the consent decree in January, triggering a two-year period in which the city must show the reforms sought by the Justice Department are locked in place.

He asked the city and Justice Department to submit memorandums to him by Oct. 29 giving their preliminary positions on whether the tentative contract complies with the consent decree.

His order also asks them to spell out the process and timeline for finalizing the agreement, as well as the next steps if the agreement is not completed.

In addition, Robart asked them to identify at what point the court should review the agreement to ensure it complies with the consent decree.

The Police Department and the CPC may also submit memorandums on the same topics, but are not required to do so, the judge wrote.

The CPC, a citizen body created under the consent decree, last week unanimously voted to urge the City Council to reject the proposed contract, saying it undermines internal disciplinary and oversight provisions in the police-accountability legislation.

Mayor Jenny Durkan supports the recently reached six-year-contract, retroactive to 2015, saying it contains long-overdue wage increases and significant reforms such as union approval of body cameras. The police guild represents more than 1,300 officers and sergeants.

Robart, in his order, said his role is limited to deciding whether any provisions in the legislation and tentative contract conflict with the consent decree.

He noted he had previously indicated he would not grant final approval to the legislation until collective bargaining is completed, and if that led to any changes inconsistent with the consent decree, the city’s progress under the second phase will be “imperiled.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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