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New Lawsuit Complicates Seattle Police Reform Plan

Two Seattle police unions have filed a lawsuit against a federal plan to reform the police department.

The Seattle Police Officers' Guild and the Seattle Police Management Association say the plan violates the state’s collective bargaining laws.

They’re asking a King County Superior Court judge to require that any reforms be subject to union negotiations.

According to Seattle Police Officers' Guild President Sergeant Rich O’Neill, the two unions are supportive of federal reform efforts, but insist that some reforms cannot be unilaterally imposed.

“As a labor union, we certainly cannot sign a blanket agreement that whatever you want to change, we’re OK with,” O’Neill said.

The unions say the reform plan could affect conditions of employment, discipline procedures and the rights of an officer who is being investigated, which are all subjects of collective bargaining.

O'Neill said both the US Department of Justice and officials of the city of Seattle have stated they will respect the collective bargaining process. But O’Neill said the court-appointed monitor, Merrick Bobb, has sent the unions a mixed message.

“It has been the monitoring team that has caused this confusion and we want it cleared up,” O’Neill said.

Merrick Bobb is expected to present his first-year reform plan before US District Judge James Robart on Tuesday. Bobb told the Seattle City Council Monday that strengthening the supervision of officers will be key to a successful reform process.

“It is very important that the department have a full, a robust early indication system, early intervention system, so that it is actively looking for and dealing with problems before they become tragedies,” said Bobb.

The Justice Department investigation found that too often, officers used excessive force when arresting people for minor offenses, especially people who were mentally ill or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  

Bobb said he expects the first-year plan will be approved by the court. Both the Justice Department and the city of Seattle have given their approval. That's after several days of squabbling between Mayor Mike McGinn and City Attorney Pete Holmes over who would represent Seattle in the reform process.

Year started with KUOW: 2005