Seattle mayor bypasses union talks, signs executive order implementing body cams

In an executive order issued Monday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray sidestepped talks with the police union and ordered patrol officers to begin wearing body cameras.

Citing fewer civilian complaints and use-of-force incidents when the cameras are worn, Murray’s order mandated bike patrol officers to start using body cameras by July 22 in one of the city’s five police precincts. By Sept. 30, all patrol officers are to be outfitted with the cameras in the West Precinct, and other precincts will slowly phase in the program in the months to come.

The executive order comes a month after two Seattle officers shot and killed Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old black woman and mother of four, in her apartment on June 18. Officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew said Lyles attacked them with knives after she called police to report a burglary. The officers in the incident were wearing microphones, but no body cameras. That fact spurred anger amongst the African American community.

“The prompt implementation of body-worn cameras is necessary to ensure that no further significant uses of force by police officers will be undocumented by a video record,” said the mayor’s order.

Murray said he wasn’t going to allow the city to be held hostage by the police union, which has previously traded wage hikes for reforms. Last month, the union asked for a pay bump of 1 1/2 percent for officers to wear the body cameras, according to the Seattle Times.

“We have gone around and around and around trying to reach an agreement,” Murray told the Times on Monday, talking about the stalled negotiations with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, which represents nearly 1,300 officers and sergeants in Seattle. “We’re not there yet,” he said.

Murray said the timing of the executive order didn’t have anything to do with allegations he sexually abused his foster son in the early 1980’s. The mayor has denied those allegations and refuses to step down despite calls from council members.

Guild President Kevin Stuckey said Murray’s order won’t create a sustainable program, and will make it more difficult to reach a contract agreement. He also said filing an unfair labor practice complaint is “something available to me.”

“While we respect the collective bargaining process and have been very patiently working with all parties involved, deploying cameras on our police officers is long overdue,” said City Council President Bruce Harrell.

“No one is more committed to equipping officers with body cameras than I am,” said Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole. “As studies and our own pilot (program) have shown, body cameras are critical tools, not just for holding all involved to account for their actions, but also to enhance safety of officers and community members.”