U.S. District Judge James Robart, after listening to arguments, said he didn’t have sufficient reason, at this time, to begin “mucking around” in the dispute.
U.S. District Judge James Robart declined Wednesday to intervene in a labor dispute between the city of Seattle and the police union representing captains and lieutenants, saying the issue didn’t pose a direct challenge to police-accountability reforms.
Robart, after listening to arguments, said he didn’t have sufficient reason, at this time, to begin “mucking around” in the dispute.
“We don’t know what is going to happen,” Robart said of an unfair-labor-practice complaint brought against the city by the Seattle Police Management Association.
But Robart reiterated his statement at a previous hearing in which he said he wouldn’t allow constitutional policing to be “held hostage” to collective bargaining as Seattle’s court-ordered reform effort moves forward.
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The hearing was requested by the Seattle City Attorney’s Office after the management association filed the complaint with a state agency.
The complaint contends the court-supervised process for moving forward on police-accountability legislation to be considered by the City Council — including key measures regarding officer discipline — violates the city’s legal obligation to first bargain with the union.
The state’s Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) has agreed to hear the complaint, which, according to the city, puts it at risk of conflicting legal obligations under a 2012 federal consent decree requiring the Police Department to adopt reforms addressing excessive force and biased policing.
In court papers, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes asked Robart to issue an order barring any outside attack on the consent decree by the police-management association or the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG), including the association’s “collateral attack,” by filing the labor complaint.
The U.S. Justice Department, whose investigation led to the consent decree, and the Community Police Commission, a citizen panel created as part of the agreement, urged Robart to wait and see what happens in the PERC review.
The police guild, which hasn’t filed a labor complaint, expressed its belief that the city will adhere to a pledge to bargain mandatory issues when the legislation is under consideration by the City Council.
The management association did not file court papers and opted not to participate in Wednesday’s hearing, noting it is not a party to the consent decree and was engaged in talks with the city to reach a new collective-bargaining agreement.
Although Robart declined to step into the dispute, he said the issue could resurface and that the management association shouldn’t conclude that “running, hiding or sticking one’s head in the sand” would allow it to avoid the requirements of constitutional policing.
Even as the management association pursues its labor complaint, Robart said he will soon issue an order that will allow the police-accountability legislation to be considered by the City Council.
He also used the hearing as an opportunity to say that, based on overall progress under the “enlightened leadership” of Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole and the assistance of the court’s monitor, Merrick Bobb, the city is in position to reach full compliance with the consent decree in 2018 and be “free of me.”
“The court sees a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.