Sawant was the only councilmember to vote against it.
Sawant was the only council member to vote against it. Seattle Channel

The Seattle City Council passed a controversial contract with the city's largest police union Tuesday, despite heavy protest from community groups across the city. Mayor Jenny Durkan needed seven of the city council members to sign off on her new deal with the union; she ended up with eight yes votes.

The council passed the contract over the protest of dozens of community groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and the city’s own Community Police Commission (CPC). The CPC, which was created by the city to provide community input on policing issues, claims that the new contract makes it harder to fire police officers for misconduct and weakens police accountability in the city.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant was the lone vote Tuesday against the contract, calling the agreement an “unacceptable rollback of police accountability.”

Seattle’s non-management police officers have been working without a contract since 2014; they once rejected a deal in 2016. This new contract will raise their wages for the first time in four years, bringing a 17 percentage increase to wages.

The contract will also cement into law many of the new police accountability changes that the City Council passed last year. This is where police reform advocates see a problem. The union contract overrules the city’s existing police accountability laws anytime there is a conflict between the two documents, and the CPC has published a lengthy list of conflicts where the new union contract changes how cops are held accountable.

The CPC has said that union contract raises the burden of proof for firing an officer, making it more difficult to terminate officers for misconduct. The CPC also says that the contract gives officers "multiple avenues of appeal" when they are disciplined, making the discipline process less transparent.

The council heard well over an hour of public comment from over 50 people in the audience, with passionate calls for both supporting the contract and voting against the contract.

The council members tried to position their Tuesday vote as only one step towards the contract’s ultimate decision because the contract will ultimately be reviewed by the federal judge that is currently overseeing court-mandated reforms at the police department. Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez introduced a last-minute resolution requesting that the U.S. District Court conduct a judicial review of the contract, which was an odd request given the court has a legal obligation to conduct that exact review the resolution requested. Gonzalez was even sitting in the courtroom when the federal judge made it clear that he intended to do exactly what Gonzalez requested him to.

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said that the council should defer review to the federal judge overseeing the reforms.

“My hope is that with judicial review by a federal judge we will be able to get answers on the questions raised,” Mosqueda said. “If the federal judge says there will be a violation or a misstep on any aspect we will be able to go back to the bargaining table in good faith.”