Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Too Many Teeth?

Police Guild’s Unfair Labor Practice complaint slams city for giving ombudsman independent investigatory and reporting powers.

The Spokane Police Guild’s filing with the state’s Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) alleges that the new powers of independence added to the city’s two year old Office of Police Ombudsman violate state labor law. A copy of the filing was obtained earlier today.

The August 20th complaint filed with the PERC specifically accuses the city of interfering with guild members’ collective bargaining rights and for refusing to engage in collective bargaining on a subject the Guild asserts is a mandatory matter of collective bargaining.

But this is where the three page complaint gets interesting because the subject matter that the Guild believes the recently adopted ordinance infringes upon is officer discipline–a function that under the literal terms of the offending ordinance is directly precluded with the following language: “The OPO [Office of Police Ombudsman] shall not have a role in any disciplinary matter.”

Apparently, the Guild believes the new powers given the office to initiate investigations independent of the police department, and issue reports on specific complaints independent of the police department, among to giving the office a role in officer discipline.

Indeed, there is much in the Guild’s complaint that drafters of the new ordinance and the citizen organizations who supported it, accept as true, including:

“Disciplinary procedures are a mandatory subject of bargaining,” and that: “Disciplinary procedures impact mandatory subjects of bargaining.”

But the allegations encompass, as a settled fact, that giving the OPO powers beyond the mere certification of internal police department investigations, goes over the line into officer discipline.

“The City made a unilateral change in its disciplinary procedures,” the complaint alleges, “by expanding the powers of the OPO and changing the requirements to which the OPO was subject, without providing the Guild an opportunity to bargain the change or the effects of the change, which constitutes a refusal to bargain with the Guild in violation of [state law.]”

In its complaint, the Guild asserts that “on or about June 14, 2010″–two weeks before the new ordinance was adopted–”the Guild demanded to bargain the changes in the ordinance that constituted mandatory subjects of bargaining and that impacted (sic) mandatory subjects of bargaining.”

In retrospect, though, the ordinance as it existed on June 14th was quite a bit weaker in terms of the OPO’s investigative powers, than the version of the ordinance that was adopted two weeks later. But, still, there were at least three clear clauses in the new ordinance that make clear that the chief, not the OPO, is solely in charge of discipline.

In many respects, the litany of the offending changes cited by the Guild could be taken from the literature of those who advocated for those changes, in that they reveal just how dominated the original ordinance was with language that rendered the OPO a mere bystander to the police department’s internal affairs (IA)investigations.

For example, the complaint charges: The [June 28th] ordinance permits the OPO to conduct an independent investigation if the OPO “is not satisfied with the decision of the mayor” [to accept an IA investigation as adequate]. Previously, the decision of the mayor was final and the OPO did not have authority to conduct an independent investigation.”

Although the complaint asserts that the OPO now has a role in officer discipline, it does not describe what that role is. Proponents of the new ordinance, including the Center for Justice, maintain that the independent reporting powers the office now has are duties that can be assigned to the office within the city’s managerial discretion, and because the OPO is directly precluded from being involved in officer discipline, there has been no infringement upon the collective bargaining agreement and/or state rules.


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