“Satisficing” is a term that applies to political decision making where desirable outcomes and values compete with each other. An American political scientist named Herbert Simon coined the term in his 1947 doctoral thesis and in 1956 published it in the journal Administrative Behavior. Time and time again, when absolute victory cannot be achieved since cut-and-dried solutions are not available, decisions must “suffice” and “satisfy” at the same time. See my 10 November blog about how good outcomes compete and conflict with each other.
Spokane voters passed Proposition 1 in February 2013 that provided for the police ombudsman to both initiate and conduct independent investigations of police conduct. Proposition 1 stemmed from an incident of police brutality that cracked the confidence in the community of police accountability. The perpetrator was eventually convicted of murder but the investigation was messy; about 50 officers saluted the offender when he was first arrested.
Meanwhile, the Police Guild represents Spokane officers in their legislated right to collective bargaining. The Mayor’s office is negotiating a new labor agreement with the Police Guild. The new labor agreement and the implementation of Proposition 1 go hand-in-hand. The voters’ approval of Proposition 1 in this case is not absolute authority given the countervailing laws allowing for Guild consent of working conditions. No agreement, no police protection.
The heart of any agreement is basic trust between the parties in a common concept of agreement. No legal agreement is air-tight and guaranteed protection from bad faith legal machinations. (See my 10 October blog on negotiating based on a common concept of agreement) That basis exists in part in this case: both the police and the citizens want the police to make Spokane a safer place by protecting and serving the citizens. Most citizens of Spokane are inclined to support the police and understand how difficult judgment calls are in dangerous circumstances. The police want to protect the community while also respecting and protecting the inalienable rights of man.
There are important cleavages, however. Citizens worry that investigations into police misconduct will not yield appropriate accountability. The police officers are concerned that past egregious actions of an officer will be an excuse to punish them, perhaps when uses of force are subject to civilian Monday-morning quarterbacks in the safety of quiet hearing rooms. It would not be fair to remove the unique due-process necessary to adjudicate police work from the very public servants that take personal risk to protect Spokane.
Compromise will have to be reached or Spokane’s police force will be off the job. Clinging to absolutes on the term “independent” will not achieve that compromise. Policy makers must work through various options until one is found that meets the minimal threshold where the two sides overlap: the definition of satisficing. Politicians have the difficult job in this case of explaining the competing issues to citizens and determining what “satisfices.”
In my experience negotiating for the United States in the NATO-Russia Council, agreement is normally found by negotiating in zones of constructive ambiguity. Creative components must be added to an agreement that give both sides reasonable assurances to proceed on the basis of their common interests. After successful implementation of intermediate steps, each side gains confidence and implementation progresses more or less toward the values being sought.
Currently the Mayor has proposed an ordinance to implement the spirit of Prop 1 that provides more independence for the ombudsman and civilian oversight of the police. It remains to be seen whether the Police Guild will approve the labor agreement that is up for renewal with the prospect of this ordinance looming. I do not know if this exact ordinance will satisfice. Some compromise is the only way forward, however.
After absolutes are set aside and compromise is reached, I recommend that confidence-building measures commence. Perhaps neighborhood picnics can be arranged in each precinct, where citizens and police stand face-to-face and talk. Citizens will find that Spokane’s police officers want both safety and justice for citizens. The police officers will find most citizens harbor gratitude for their service. Future investigations will have sufficient transparency and fairness to assure each side.
It takes satisficing to recover from breaches of public trust.