Critics say it’s difficult to improve police accountability because it’s governed by collective bargaining in union agreements with Seattle police and many other police departments.
Fred Thomas testified about the shooting of his unarmed son by Lakewood police. “As an example, the officer who shot our son was given over a week to write a statement with several texts between him and his acting chief, who was also the incident commander,” said Thomas.
When a Seattle officer punched a handcuffed woman after she kicked him, he was fired by the police chief. But his termination was overruled by an arbitrator.
“It is very dissettling to community and to officers if the decisions of a sheriff and chief can be overturned by an arbitrator without good because we need more certainty in that process,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.
Durkan asked for help at today’s hearing at the State Senate Hearing on Police Accountability.
Senate Bill 5134 removes arbitration and other police discipline procedures from the collective bargaining process.
Shoreline Democratic Sen. Jesse Salomon is the lead sponsor.
“We can pass bills to ban chokeholds or no-knock warrants and things of that nature. But if we don’t change the accountability system, then those reforms could be rendered virtually meaningless,” Salomon said.
Police officer unions and unions, in general, are fearful of any weakening collective bargaining laws.
“The actual impact is an erosion of the very benchmarks of collective bargaining and employee rights due process, fair treatment and equal access to procedural justice,” Leann Kuzne, executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees.
There is more support for a second bill that would retain the arbitration process.
However, Senate Bill 5055 aims to reduce bias in the arbitrator selection process.
And it explicitly allows for civilian review of the police discipline decisions.
It’s sponsored by White Center Democratic Sen. Joe Nguyen, who said, “We can respect the work that local jurisdictions are doing with their communities while also respecting the rights of workers to bargain over the impacts of those community-based decisions.”