SEATTLE - Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan appeared relieved as she faced news media moments after the Seattle City Council voted 8-1 to ratify the first labor contract Seattle police officers have had in four years.
"It was just not fair for us to pay our officers 2014 wages in a 2018 Seattle," she said, while insisting that the new contract will not roll back any agreements on police accountability or reforms, which has been the prime concern of Seattle's civil rights groups.
"Let me just be clear, we are absolutely committed to reforms," said Seattle police Chief Carmen Best, who added, "We are going to make sure that we have a culture of continuous improvements and innovations to be relentless that we have a reformed police department."
The pushback on the contract language came from civil rights groups like the Seattle NAACP, which said the contract is good for police, but bad for people who they say would be most affected by police bias and misconduct.
"We stand in opposition to this SPOG (Seattle Police Officer's Guild) contract that flies in the face of accountability and transparency here in Seattle,'' said Gerald Hankerson, who leads Seattle's NAACP.
Labor unions celebrated the pay hike, which will pay 1,444 Seattle officers back pay totaling about $65 million, provide an immediate 17 percent pay bump, and increase salaries up to 4 percent. Seattle officers would be the top earning law enforcers in the state when the contract takes effect in February, provided federal Judge James Robards approves the language in the contract regarding provisions in the 2012 Federal Consent Decree.
The Consent Decree put SPD officer reforms and accountability under oversight of federal courts, after the Department of Justice ruled Seattle police officers used excessive force too frequently and use of force statistics suggested in influence of racial bias.
Leaders of the group "Speak Out Seattle," which urged the city council to approve the contract, hoped the financial incentives would help retain current officers, and encourage more to join the force. "I think this is very good news for public safety," said S.O.S. leader Elisabeth James. "I think we will lose fewer officers. We still may lose some if they already started the process of leaving Seattle, but this is going to send a good message."
But civil rights activist Andre Taylor told KIRO-7 he believes the contract nullifies police accountability measures passed by the city council just last year.
"The problem is the city council," he said. "We had a beautiful thing going. Why would you want to blow up? That's what they have done. So now I'm in a position to have to go to war again. Not because I want to, but because the community I represent demands it of me!"
Durkan urged patience and trust from the groups most concerned about what they see as rollbacks in police accountability.
"I am steadfastly committed to this," she said. "I have been working on police reforms in this city for decades and I am not going to stop now."
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