A state public-employment board has tentatively rejected an unfair-labor-practice complaint seeking to block Seattle’s police chief from hiring assistant chiefs from outside the department — an option city leaders consider key to police reform.
The complaint, filed May 7 by the Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA), alleged that career opportunities for captains and lieutenants in the union could be harmed by a new city ordinance that allows the chief to hire outside law-enforcement officers as assistant or deputy chiefs.
The ordinance, enacted in January, repealed a 1978 restriction that limited the police chief to selecting senior commanders from the current pool of captains and lieutenants.
The legislation, signed by Mayor Ed Murray, was pushed by council President Tim Burgess and Bruce Harrell, chair of the council’s public-safety committee.
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With Murray beginning his search for a new police chief at the time, the two council members said they wanted to attract top police-chief candidates to a department under a federal consent decree requiring reforms to address excessive force and biased policing.
Murray expressed displeasure over the SPMA complaint, saying he would require his nominee to bring in at least one outside aide, in part to bolster the reform effort.
His choice for the job, former Boston police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole, whose confirmation hearings before the council begin Wednesday, has signaled she might bring in more than one outside assistant, either in sworn or civilian positions, as part of a transition team. But she also has said she supports filling positions with qualified people from within.
The SPMA, citing potential harms from limitations on promotions and the possibility of demotions of current assistant chiefs, asserted in its complaint to the Public Employment Relations Commission that the change was subject to mandatory bargaining.
But in May 28 letter to the parties, David I. Gedrose, a commission manager, found the complaint was defective and lacks standing.
“The union does not represent Assistant Chiefs,” Gedrose wrote. “The collective bargaining agreement between the union and employer apparently does not address the issue of promotion to Assistant Chief.”
Gedrose gave the union 21 days to file an amended complaint or have the matter dismissed.
Capt. Eric Sano, president of the SPMA, said Tuesday that an amended complaint will be filed and that the association’s attorney was working on it “as we speak.”
Sano said SPMA doesn’t object to the chief bringing in outside assistants but wants to negotiate the number. He said the union would be willing to accept one or two outside positions but is concerned about the potential replacement of all assistant chiefs with outsiders and the creation of a “glass ceiling.”
Even though O’Toole is likely to retain insiders for their “institutional knowledge,” there is the possibility of “mission creep” over time, Sano said.
The union’s attorney believes the commission manager erred in reaching his decision, said Sano, who served on the search committee for the new chief and identified O’Toole as a strong leader and his choice for the job
Burgess, in a statement, welcomed the decision.
“The police chief’s ability to hire the best candidates for her command staff is a central part of our new approach to management of the police department,” he wrote. “The status quo is not acceptable. We expect significant change and it begins with the command staff.
“The new chief faces huge issues,” he added. “The culture of the police department is stagnant. Basic management systems and protocols are lacking. Management accountability and core business practices are not well defined. Data systems are severely lacking. There are significant questions about use of resources and deployment of officers. The new chief will need very experienced and seasoned managers to create and sustain the change we want.”
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story. Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @stevemiletich