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The Seattle police union representing lieutenants and captains has filed an unfair-labor-practice complaint seeking to block the police chief from hiring assistant chiefs from outside the department.

The complaint, filed May 7, comes as Mayor Ed Murray is preparing to announce Monday his selection for Seattle’s next police chief.

Murray signed City Council legislation in January allowing law-enforcement officers from outside the department to be hired as assistant or deputy chiefs.

The legislation was pushed by Councilmembers Tim Burgess, the president of the council, and Bruce Harrell, the chair of the council’s public-safety committee, in part to help attract top police-chief candidates to a department currently under a federal consent decree requiring reforms to address excessive force and biased policing.

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It repealed a 1978 restriction that limited the police chief to selecting senior commanders from the current pool of captains and lieutenants.

The Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA), citing potential harm to its members, asserts in the complaint the change is subject to mandatory bargaining, which the city has refused to do.

The legislation could limit promotional opportunities for captains and lieutenants or lead to the demotion of incumbent assistant chiefs, according to the complaint.

Seattle police Capt. Eric Sano, president of the SPMA, could not be reached for comment.

Burgess, in a statement Friday, said: “The new Chief of Police must have the ability to hire commanders from outside the police department. Our reform objectives require it. Our officers deserve new command leadership. We’re on very solid legal ground here.”

The complaint was filed with the Public Employment Relations Commission, which will review it to determine if it should move forward to a hearing examiner.

At the time the legislation was approved, the change brought Seattle in line with most of the seven West Coast cities, including Portland, San Francisco and San Diego, to which Seattle compares itself in labor-contract negotiations.

Only San Jose, Calif., didn’t allow the appointment of outside hires in the top police ranks.

Additionally, of 19 cities surveyed nationwide, 12 allowed such appointments from outside.

Under the ordinance, assistant chiefs who have risen through the ranks but are later removed may resume their previous rank; those hired from outside wouldn’t have the right to another position in the department if removed.

It isn’t known why the 1978 restriction was enacted, except that it occurred as part of creating the Public Safety Civil Service Commission.

But Burgess noted the 1978 action occurred the same year that Patrick Fitzsimons of the New York City Police Department was chosen as Seattle’s police chief.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or

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