By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
After weeks of debate, the Seattle City Council approved a new labor contract for Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers on Nov. 13.
Hundreds of people, including dozens from the International District (ID) community, packed City Hall. The public comments period was extended to allow more people to have their voices heard.
Pang Qiu Fung, 86, known fondly around Chinatown as “Auntie Pang,” spoke through a translator, Doreen Wai. The ID resident gathered 1,000 signatures in support of the contract.She said to rousing applause, “We, the elderly community in Chinatown… every one of us fully supports the new contract, support their (police officers’) raise.”
Officers will receive a collective $65 million in back pay and raises — a 17 percent total bump with retroactive raises of between 3 and 4 percent per year. That makes Seattle officers the best paid in the state and fourth best paid along the Pacific coast.
But a broad coalition of community leaders urged the Seattle City Council to reject the contract between the City and the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) because they said it threatens to undermine the package of improvements put in place by a historic police accountability law the Council approved in May 2017. The ordinance was designed to strengthen community trust in the SPD and solidify reforms arising from a still-open court order against the City.
Diane Narasaki, co-chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition, said she had no issue with police officers getting more money.
“The city should proceed with the immediate pay increases and benefits negotiated with SPOG,” she said during public comments. But she went on to say that civil and human rights must be protected.
“We believe that there can be no true accountability to the community without the Seattle Community Police Commission (CPC), recommendations that were passed in the 2017 ordinance,” said Narasaki.
“Please do not turn back the clock on advances to date made by the CPC and the City on building community trust in the police department.”
Joseph Shoji Lachman echoed Narasaki’s sentiments.
“I have extreme concerns about the way it (the contract) rolls back regulations on secondary employment, as well as using vacation time for suspensions.”
He posted on Facebook after the vote that he is really disappointed.
“Seattle just undermined the police accountability reforms it passed last year. Why position the city as a nationwide leader on police accountability reform and then totally ruin its significance by letting the police union rewrite it wherever it’s not convenient to them?”
Yan Ku, an ID resident who heard the testimonials of those who accused cops of killing, said, “Just because there are a few bad cops, doesn’t mean the police force shouldn’t have a raise. It’s just like doctors. There are bad doctors who accidentally kill patients. Does it mean we write off all doctors?”
City Council President Bruce Harrell called it “an insult” to suggest that the council would roll back reforms.
“I understand where you hearts are,” Harrell said to the crowd. Holding up a binder, he said,
“Trust that when we go through this thick binder, we are going through it to make sure we get the reform to protect our community, that’s what we do.”
Tim Lee, who organized Chinatown residents and businesses to attend the City Council meeting in support of the contract, said a councilmember emailed him after the vote. That councilmember was originally going to vote against the contract but was swayed by the arguments by Chinatown residents, and voted in favor of it.
In a news conference following the vote, Mayor Jenny Durkan pointed to her long career working on police accountability. She said she would not sign off on an agreement she felt was a rollback.
“We know that this agreement does not roll back reforms,” Durkan said. “The (police) chief and I are committed to reforms, our police officers are committed to reforms, our city council is committed to reforms.”
The vote was 8-1, with Kshama Sawant being the only “no” vote. Kristina Lee, an ID business owner, was disappointed.
“This is the woman (Sawant) who fought hard for the $15 minimum wage law a few years ago. Many who benefitted from this law are kids. Now, the police who put their lives in danger every day needed a legitimate wage increase, and she rejected it.”
The contract will now go to U.S. District Court Judge James Robart for review. SPD is still being monitored as part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to reform its use of force practices. The judge is expected to make sure the new contract does not conflict with those requirements.
Ruth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.