City renews police labor contract, new policies on drug, alcohol testing

Blood test of officer involved in accident last summer is negative

Working the past seven months without a labor contract, Mercer Island police and city administrators finally negotiated an agreement that includes a new drug and alcohol policy, among higher wages and benefit packages for the next three years. The contract, which the City Council approved last Monday night, also contains a new provision regarding the release of public records requests concerning individual officers. The contract expires at the end of 2010.

Part of the new drug and alcohol policy establishes the situations when testing is required and when it may be ordered by superiors. According to the new agreement, an officer may be required to submit a drug test only when there is a reasonable suspicion to believe that the officer is in violation of the policy. Administrators must also put that suspicion in writing and notify a guild representative prior to or at the time when the officer is required to take the test. However, refusing to take a test presumes that the officer is in violation and may result in the loss of his job.

According to the city’s human resources director, Kryss Segle, the current agreement took a team effort on both sides of the bargaining table.

“The city’s management team and the union’s labor team worked hard and remained collaborative throughout the negotiation process. The result is a fair contract bench marked at the midpoint of the comparable market and good relations intact,” said Segle.

In the previous labor contract for the Island’s police guild, there was not a specific drug and alcohol policy. That became an issue last summer when an on-duty officer accidentally struck a pedestrian while driving his patrol car through a crosswalk on the Fourth of July. While a Breathalyzer test cleared the officer of having a blood alcohol level, his superiors ordered him to submit a blood sample to be tested for drug and alcohol without consulting a guild representative first. The city attorney’s office wanted the blood to be tested under the post-accident policy in the city employee handbook. While the blood was going to be sent to a crime lab for testing, the guild protested the action and argued that the city’s accident policy did not apply because it was not a part of the bargaining agreement with police. According to acting City Attorney Katie Knight, a deal between the city and guild was eventually worked out, and the blood was tested. The results came back negative, she said.

Under the new contract, the city does not require drug testing of officers involved in an accident in their patrol car. For other city employees, post-accident testing is required after receiving a citation for a moving traffic violation, causing an accident that results in the loss of human life or property damage that exceeds $2,000. The city requires a blood test or breath test for alcohol and a urine test for controlled substances.

The new labor agreement with the police also stipulates that the city will notify the guild of any public records requests regarding an officer. This is a new section of the contract, according to Segle. For public records disclosure, the agreement states that the city will not release an individual officer’s records unless required by statute or policy. The city must also notify the guild of legally requested records at least 10 days prior to releasing them unless both parties agree to waive the notice.

As with all city employees, the drug and alcohol policy for Island officers prohibits police from coming to work under the influence of alcohol and illegal drugs. Police are also required to notify their superiors if they are using prescription medication or over-the-counter drugs that may impact their ability to perform their duties.

Maintenance employees have the unique requirement of being subject to random testing under state law since they are required to hold a commercial driver’s license. The city currently does not include a separate drug policy in its contracts with the Fire Department and police records staff, according to Segle.

In addition to the new drug and public record disclosure policies, the three-year collective bargaining agreement gives officers a 5.05 percent raise from last year with market adjustments provided in the second and third years of the contract and retroactive pay for this year. The new salary range for officers is between $25 per hour for new hires to a maximum of about $50 an hour for department veterans.

The rank of corporal was also added in addition to a new Wellness Incentive Plan that awards employees who use little or no sick leave. Officers with a college education also get a stipend increased from $125 to $175 per month for those who have bachelor degrees and from $75 to $100 per month for those with associate degrees. The premium for detectives and the School Resource Officer also increased from 3 to 3.5 percent, and the department added hazard pay for Dive Team missions and SOT missions so that they will now get double time when performing those duties.

The Drive Hammered, Get Nailed extra enforcement patrols will take place between Aug. 15 and Sept. 1. Participating locally are the Bellevue, Burien, Clyde Hill, Des Moines, Issaquah, Kent, Mercer Island, Newcastle, SeaTac, Seattle and Snoqualmie Police Departments, and the Washington State Patrol.

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