Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Councilmember Lisa Herbold joined mayors, labor leaders, and community leaders to testify in Olympia and urge statewide changes to the police disciplinary process, specifically arbitration.
At the Senate Labor, Commerce & Tribal Affairs committee, this coalition of leaders expressed support for SB 5055 and SB 5134, which both propose changes to the discipline appeals process for instances when an officer is disciplined for misconduct.
“As a former Teamster, I deeply believe in collective bargaining rights; however, I also believe that the significant powers and importance of police officers our community make their roles different from other workers. Officers’ state-sanctioned ability to deprive individuals of liberty and life requires us to ensure those powers are subject to clear and robust policies, oversight, and accountability. Common-sense reforms to arbitration appeals will both protect workers’ rights and promote public confidence and police accountability,” said Durkan. “If Olympia does not act on arbitration and strengthen the proposal, here are the real consequences: officers terminated or disciplined for significant misconduct will continue to be reinstated. Both the community and other officers will see these results. Community confidence will be diminished, making it more difficult for every officer to do their jobs. Discipline and accountability in departments will be undermined, making it more difficult to ensure the proper cultures and actions in a department.”
“The Seattle City Council’s State Legislative agenda supports both reform of arbitration and removing private arbitration in law enforcement discipline. I believe thorough discussion of both bills can lead to action that enhances public confidence in police statewide and in the city of Seattle, as even in Seattle we have an appeals backlog of over 80 unresolved cases of misconduct, some from five years ago,” said Herbold.
Testimony to support and strengthen SB 5055 included Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards; Spokane City Council President Breean Boggs, Colleen Echohawk of the Seattle Community Police Commission; Monisha Harrell of Equal Rights Washington; Samantha Grad of UFCW21; Candice Bock of Association of Washington Cities; and James McMahan of Washington State Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
A Washington Post analysis of 1,881 officers fired by the nation’s largest police departments from 2006-2017 found that “departments have been forced to reinstate more than 450 officers after appeals required by police union contracts.” A recent analysis by Stephen Rushin found that arbitrators on appeal reduced or overturned police officer discipline in 52 percent of these cases. In 46 percent of these cases, arbitrators ordered police departments to rehire previously terminated officers.
In July 2020, Durkan wrote to state legislators asking for a series of key reforms including eliminating arbitration, and in recent months, Durkan has been working with legislators, community groups and labor to propose changes. Seattle has made some changes to the arbitration process including arbitrator selection, but under state law, the City of Seattle is legally required to negotiate nearly every aspect of police discipline and the appeals process with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild. Any changes to the arbitration process must be negotiated then approved by union members. A change in state law would create a minimum and uniform standard for all law enforcement agencies.
Since 2015 in Seattle – there have been a total of 533 discipline cases. Of those, 18 officers were terminated and 515 faced discipline such as suspension, demotion, reprimands or training. SPOG appealed 93 times.