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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane unveils police labor deal

City leaders appear ready to back a new labor contract for Spokane’s police officers.

Spokane Police Guild leaders and Mayor David Condon agreed to a five-year labor contract Monday. The deal, which still must be approved by guild members and the City Council, was unveiled Tuesday for public scrutiny.

Council members praised the deal and said it greatly strengthens citizen oversight of the Police Department.

But some police reform advocates say the new deal still falls short of the City Charter by limiting when the police ombudsman can conduct investigations into police misconduct independently from the police department.

The City Council rejected an earlier proposed four-year contract with the guild in November. Council members said that the earlier agreement did not meet the voter-approved requirements giving the police ombudsman the right to investigate alleged officer misconduct. In the new deal, the guild agrees to allow the ombudsman to conduct independent investigations in some circumstances.

“It shows the administration and the guild have given a significant effort that gives us an agreement based on the things we said were lacking in the last one,” said Councilman Steve Salvatori, one of the council members who led the effort to ask voters to enhance citizen police oversight in the City Charter.

But Breean Beggs, a civil rights attorney and the former director of the Center for Justice, said the city still has not met what voters wanted.

He said the proposal improves police oversight compared to what exists now, but it’s not as strong as what’s required in the City Charter. Although what voters approved last year was limited by the police contract in force when the charter change was approved, the charter can’t be hampered by future labor contracts, Beggs said.

“Under the charter, you can’t limit independent investigative power,” Beggs said.

The new contract maintains from the November proposal annual 2 percent raises for police officers every year from 2012 through 2015. It adds 2016 with no raise in pay but an increase instead in “deferred compensation.” Deferred compensation is similar to 401(k) retirement plans common in the private sector. Police, like many city employees, receive pensions and deferred compensation, but they don’t get Social Security. The city estimates the contract will increase the city’s cost by 2.8 percent a year, the same amount as the November proposal.

City Council President Ben Stuckart wrote a letter to Condon earlier this year asking him to reopen contract negotiations to address items the council felt were necessary in the contract.

“This comes pretty darn close to the intent of my letter, as close as you’re going to get in a negotiation,” Stuckart said. “The council spoke. The mayor listened, and we have a good path forward.”

The new deal would give the ombudsman the right to conduct an independent investigation, if the Police Department declined to open an investigation and the Spokane Police Ombudsman Commission disagreed with that decision. The commission also could contract with an investigator to continue investigating a case that the commission felt was not thoroughly investigated by the department.

The ombudsman could also conduct interviews related to complaints filed with his office before the department starts an investigation.

“This agreement includes the elements requested by the City Council and the public and delivers to the community unprecedented independent oversight of its police department,” Condon said in a news release.