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King County makes deal with union for deputy body cameras

King County Executive Dow Constantine speaks at a news conference, Wednesday, March 10, 2021, at the Lumen Field Events Center in Seattle.
Ted S. Warren
/
The Associated Press
King County Executive Dow Constantine speaks at a news conference, Wednesday, March 10, 2021, at the Lumen Field Events Center in Seattle. Constantine included $5 million to launch the body camera program in his budget request earlier this year.

SEATTLE (AP) — King County and the union representing sheriff’s deputies have reached an agreement that would allow for deputies to carry body and dashboard cameras, but the county’s police oversight agency says it gives deputies too much discretion over when to use them.

The new collective bargaining agreement between Washington state's most populous county and the King County Police Officer’s Guild contains significant pay raises for the more than 630 deputies and sergeants represented by the union, The Seattle Times reported.

It includes pay raises totaling 20% through 2024, including retroactive increases. Salaries for sheriff’s deputies start at about $73,000.

Under the agreement, deputies could begin wearing body cameras as soon as next year. County officials have pushed for body cameras for over a decade but progress stalled amid union pushback, even as the Seattle Police Department and other law enforcement agencies began using them.

The agreement also “recognizes the authority” of the county Office of Law Enforcement Oversight to conduct independent investigations of officers and issue subpoenas. King County residents voted in 2020 to give the oversight office that authority, but it was subject to collective bargaining.

King County Executive Dow Constantine included $5 million to launch the body camera program in his budget request earlier this year.

The Metropolitan King County Council unanimously approved the collective bargaining agreement — which could not be changed, only approved or rejected — earlier this month, but still must approve funding for the body camera program, as part of the budget.

The oversight office wrote to the King County Metropolitan County Council this week saying they do not believe the policy meets the standards set by county communities or best practices.

The agreement is too lenient toward officers, giving them too much discretion in when cameras should be turned on, and, in use of force incidents, allowing them to review video footage before being interviewed, Tamer Abouzeid, the oversight agency's director, said in a statement.

The agreement generally tells deputies to turn their cameras on when interacting with people, but has a long list of exceptions including when someone might have an expectation of privacy or has certain objections to being recorded.

On Thursday, a County Council committee approved the funding to launch the program, with a majority reasoning that it was better to get the cameras in place and seek changes later.

“I don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good and I think this is good,” said County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, a longtime advocate of body cameras.

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