File — University of Washington Seattle campus

The University of Washington campus in Seattle, Washington. 

(The Center Square) — A Washington state lawmaker is calling for a review of a police contract privately negotiated by the University of Washington which he describes as “clearly in conflict” with public records law.

Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, sent a letter on Tuesday to University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce, the University of Washington Regents, and Attorney General Bob Ferguson demanding the contract be put under the microscope.

Pollet is a lawyer who teaches at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health and the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance. He has lectured on subjects which include environmental law and access to public records. Pollet also served as an officer for the state’s Coalition for Open Government.

“Obviously, a contract cannot trump the Public Records Act,” Pollet wrote. “Nor can a contract have provisions that require destruction of records in violation of the records retention rules duly adopted pursuant to statute.”

The Washington Public Records Act requires requires agencies to make public records available to members of the public with limited exemptions.

Pollet cited reporting in August by The Daily of the University of Washington, which reported that the contract was listed on August 6 as a “tentative” agreement was reached while student activist groups.

Speaking with The Daily, UW Senior Director of Media Relations Victor Balta said that the union voted on the final contract a week prior.

The vote came without the knowledge of the University of Washington Black Student Union, which has strongly opposed the university increasing the presence of police on campus, the Daily reported.

Since the UW’s police formed a union in 2011, past contracts have frequently restricted public access to disciplinary records and permitted many records to be destroyed.

In his letter, Pollet cited state law which not only outlines retention schedules for all records, but requires employee disciplinary records to be kept for six years after final disposition of the case if an allegation is upheld.

Destroying or tampering with a public record that is required to be maintained is a crime under Chapter 40.16 of Washington law, Pollet added.

Pollet did praise UW for its policy of sharing sexual misconduct records for school employees dating back three years upon request and to seek disclosure when the UW is hiring. The practice, he said, should also apply to police misconduct. 

This public policy should apply to disclosure of police misconduct that involves biased policing, use of force or discrimination in addition to sexual misconduct.

Among the provisions outlined in the UW’s newest police contract, officers are now given 72 hours to issue a formal statement related to any injuries or killings committed by officers compared to 48 hours in previous contracts.

Like prior contracts with the university, any public records “related to employee misconduct or alleged misconduct,” will redact any police employee’s name if it has not already been made public.

In addition, the new contract grants unionized campus police officers a 10-day “protest period” if a public record naming them is requested. Prior contacts granted four-day protest periods.

UW police is also allowed to negotiate the terms of any oversight committee the university may choose to convene, contrary to previous contracts.

The university’s new police contract takes effect July 1, 2021.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.