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.
The complaint was filed May 7 by the Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA), which represents captains and lieutenants, over City Council legislation signed by Mayor Ed Murray in January that allows law-enforcement officers from outside the department to be hired as assistant or deputy chiefs.
The legislation was pushed by Council President Tim Burgess and Bruce Harrell, chair of the council’s public-safety committee, in part to help attract top police-chief candidates to a department under a federal consent decree requiring reforms to address excessive force and biased policing.
It repealed a 1978 restriction that limited the police chief to selecting senior commanders from the current pool of captains and lieutenants.
Murray has said he will require his nominee to be Seattle’s next police chief, former Boston police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole, to bring in at least one outside aide, in part to bolster the reform effort.
O’Toole, whose confirmation hearings begin Wednesday before the council, 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 harm to its members, 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 complaint dismissed.
Capt. Eric Sano, president of the SPMA, said today that an amended complaint will be filed and that the association’s attorney was working on it “as we speak.”
Sano, who has previously said SPMA doesn’t object to the chief bringing in outside assistants but wants to negotiate the number, said their attorney believes the commission manager erred in reaching his decision.
Burgess issued a statement on 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. The status quo is not acceptable. We expect significant change and it begins with the command staff.
“The new chief faces huge issues. 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.”