Critics say the Bombastic podcast that replaced the police union newspaper represents a strategic shift at SPOG


The Guardian, March 2015

By Paul Kieffer

The Guardian, the official newspaper of the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), went out of print a few months into the pandemic. The newspaper’s demise signaled a significant change within Seattle’s largest police union, and one that closed a window on the inner life of the guild.

The print-only newspaper, which had a circulation of around 3,000 copies at its peak, was read primarily by police officers, retired police officers, union organizers and city hall staff. When articles from the newspaper have made it into the public eye, they have generally been backed by controversy, such as a 2011 opinion piece in which an officer called a racial profiling training course an attack on “values America” ​​and described Seattle’s elected leaders as a “quaint socialist cabal.”

Among SPOG members and retirees, however, The Guardian’s demise was a sign of strategic and generational change. The guild’s new president, Mike Solan, had recently beaten the incumbent, Kevin Stuckey, by promising to aggressively and publicly defend Seattle police officers against criticism from the public and city officials. Solan’s dramatic campaign video, featuring footage of riot police clashing with protesters, drew tens of thousands of views. Stuckey’s video, which focused on the guild’s stability and its relationship with other unions, only attracted a few hundred views.

After his victory, Solan began reshaping the guild’s approach to public relations. A few months after taking office in February 2020, Solan sacked former SPOG Chairman Rich O’Neill – who had retired from the SPD and returned to SPOG to handle contract negotiations and media relations for Stuckey – and quietly shut down The Guardian. In December of that year, he introduced a replacement: a bombastic monthly podcast called “Hold the Line with Mike Solan,” produced in the style of conservative talk shows.

“On the podcast, we hear the opinion of the president. Where is the rest of the [SPOG] Advice? What platform does an officer now have to make his opinion known? There are not any. – Rich O’Neill, former SPOG President

Typically, Solan uses his podcast to criticize the Seattle City Council, which he says has sacrificed public safety and the welfare of police officers to appease a “crowd of activists.” The details of this review vary. In a 90-minute episode, Solan denounced Seattle’s “Homeless Industrial Complex”; in another, he condemned the vaccination mandate for city workers as an ill-advised blow to the already shrunken ranks of the SPD. Unlike The Guardian, few other guild members appeared on “Hold the Line”; instead, Solan relies on guests from outside the police department, ranging from former mayoral candidate James Donaldson to encampment suppression activist Andrea Suarez.

While Solan’s allies have pointed to The Guardian’s dwindling readership among young officers as a reason to replace the paper with a podcast, O’Neill doesn’t believe young officers are responsible for the paper’s demise. Instead, he said Solan made the change as “a way to give the president more control over the voice of the guild. On the podcast, we hear the opinion of the president. Where is the rest of the [SPOG] Advice? What platform does an officer now have to make his opinion known? There are not any.

The SPOG published the first issue of The Guardian in 1970 as a place for editorials on the state of the SPD and city politics, announcements on deaths and retirements, updates on contract negotiations and occasional receipts. Although the guild appointed officers with writing experience to edit the newspaper, the SPOG president had the final say on what made it print. The document was mainly written by the officers themselves.

“It gave officers a place to vent their frustrations,” Stuckey said. “If there was a formation they didn’t like, they could talk about it in the newspaper.” O’Neill said he tried to strike a balance between allowing officers to voice their opinions and avoiding direct criticism from elected officials or SPD command staff. He did, however, make a few exceptions: the paper regularly criticized former city attorney Pete Holmes. Holmes did not return a call for comment.

O’Neill saw The Guardian as a centerpiece of SPOG’s public relations strategy and an opportunity for transparency. “It made the officers more approachable,” he said. “The ministry has a policy that says you can’t speak to the press without permission, and if you try to speak to the press anonymously, you can get in trouble. But if you wrote something in the union journal, it was considered protected union speech.

However, some former readers outside the guild believe that publishing controversial articles actually hurt SPOG’s mission as a union.

“What struck me, and is still close to my heart to this day, was that there were officers who had views that I considered to be quite racist,” the former city council member recalls Mike O’Brien. “And they were comfortable writing about them in something that was going to be handed out around town hall, to people their union had to work with to get a contract.”

After the 2011 op-ed about racial profiling training sparked a public backlash, former city councilor Sally Clark wrote on her blog that while The Guardian could be a valuable tool in understanding the guild, it sometimes becomes a “tool for people whose goal is provocation rather than information and critical thinking.

“As president, your first task is to secure a contract that benefits your members. If you’re on a banging podcast [elected city officials] each month, how many upvotes will you get when it comes time for the board to approve a contract? – Kevin Stuckey, former SPOG President

While O’Neill said The Guardian sometimes published stories he considered inadvisable, he argued that the newspaper balanced its criticism of city officials with the occasional run of articles praising them. After former mayor Jenny Durkan agreed to a contract with SPOG after years of negotiations, for example, The Guardian published an article welcoming her decision. By contrast, O’Neill said, the aggressive tone of “Hold the Line” does little to improve relations between SPOG and elected officials, which he says will put the guild in a weaker position in future negotiations. contracts with the city.

“As president…your number one job is to get a contract that’s good for your members,” he said. “If you’re on a podcast that slams [elected city officials] each month, how many upvotes will you get when it comes time for the board to approve a contract? »

During the final years of The Guardian, Stuckey recalls watching the newspaper’s readership decline as an influx of young officers joined the guild. “I think it was always a valuable source of information,” he said. “I thought it was important to have. But it’s expensive to keep running if fewer and fewer people are using it. Before losing his re-election bid, Stuckey was looking for ways to cut the newspaper’s costs – about $40,000 a year – to keep him alive.

Observers outside the guild have also noticed the strategic shift that Solan’s podcast represents. “SPOG members elected Solan after he ran on a Make Seattle Great Again platform,” said former city council president Lorena González. “Focusing the voice of all officers [into] his singular voice is yet another red flag of deep-seated cultural issues in the SPD.

Probably the group most frustrated by The Guardian’s death are retired police officers. “Many of our retired members and widows were downright furious when they stopped receiving the newspaper,” O’Neill said. In response, the Retired Seattle Police Officers’ Association launched its own newspaper, The Call Box, in 2021. The name comes from an SPD newspaper that ran out after the rise of The Guardian in the 1970s.

The newspaper rarely includes editorials, except for a September 2021 contribution from the association’s president comparing 2020 to the 1960s, when “riots erupted, cities burned, political conventions spun out of control. , hippies flooded mainstream America, street drugs and free love”. permeated all levels of society and threatened to destroy an entire generation. Instead, The Call Box’s pages are typically filled with obituaries, real estate listings, and “where are they now” segments.

Meanwhile, rumors are still circulating among some older SPOG members about The Guardian’s resurrection, possibly as an online newspaper. Solan, however, shows no sign of backing down from his strategy. He did not respond to a request for comment.

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