LAST MONTH, the cop contract that was put to rank-and-file police officers for ratification went down by a mere 56 votes. What's followed in the past few weeks has been a political tug of war between the city and the Seattle Police Officers Guild. The public will never know the full scope of that war, since much of it was fought behind closed doors.

What we do know is this: The Seattle Police Officers Guild took their members' demands for more pay back to the city. The city consented, but then it pushed back, demanding more accountability during internal investigations of police misconduct ["Accountability--At What Price?" Phil Campbell, May 18].

Although the guild has taken a tough public stance against accountability reforms, it appears that they've given some ground on the issue that has been the historic source of their strength: their ability to shield members when they're accused of professional wrongdoing.

Although the full details of the contract are not yet known, community activists are bubbling with enthusiasm over what they've seen and heard so far. This can only help the image of Mayor Paul Schell, whose most memorable quote so far is his schoolyard denial of being a "wuss."

"Schell's playing hardball," says an approving Harriet Walden, a community activist whose group, Mothers for Police Accountability, has been pushing for greater police accountability for the past decade. "He's the only mayor in 20 years who's stood up to the guild." Other community leaders, like James Kelly of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, have also recently given Schell credit for putting it to the guild.

The full details of the second guild contract won't be released, of course, until 1,200 police officers and sergeants approve it--assuming they do. The guild didn't return phone calls from The Stranger, and rank-and-file officers for the most part stayed mum. So, while the guild was able to gain cost-of-living adjustments that were not mentioned in the first proposed contract, they appear to have made the following concessions:

· Police officers will have to submit to face-to-face interviews when they are accused of using excessive force. In the past, they only had to respond in writing.

· An "early warning system" will identify officers with "patterns of potentially inappropriate behavior." Those officers would get additional training and oversight.

· The city won't be obligated to maintain the confidentiality of internal investigation files involving sustained complaints.

Most importantly, a citizen-led Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) will be established, and the OPA director will essentially become the director of internal investigations. A three-person civilian-review committee will be created to review the work of the OPA.

Naturally, Schell's press release does not mention the potential pitfalls that exist with this review system. Many of these problems have to do with the structure and implementation of the OPA and the civilian-review committee. For example, the OPA head will not be independent, but will instead be working under the police chief, who has yet to be named. Consequently, his or her power may be subjugated to typical establishment procedures. In addition, the civilian-review committee is not likely to get any operational money; it will probably have no subpoena power; and its members will probably be appointed by politicians rather than elected by the citizenry. Consequently, the committee's power may be only symbolic.

While these issues concern activists like Walden, she says there's still cause for hope. The Schell administration boasts that the contract has more civilian oversight steps than ever before, and people close to the contract talks in city hall (voices that are often critical of the mayor) agree.

Walden is pleased. "If they ratify the contract, it looks like a very good first step, a good beginning," she says. "I think the mayor ought to be commended."

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