Bainbridge Island starts effort to break up police union

Bainbridge Island has taken its first step to break up the city’s police union.

City Manager Doug Schulze filed a petition to the state Oct. 2 to allow the city to remove four lieutenants from the union that represents Bainbridge police officers.

City officials will present a case to the Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission — the independent state agency that resolves labor-management disputes involving public employees — to have the city’s first-line supervisors removed from the Bainbridge Island Police Guild.

The Bainbridge department currently has 14 officer positions, and those employees are managed by the departments four lieutenants, but both line officers and lieutenants belong to the same union.

That arrangement, however, has led to ongoing accountability and morale problems in recent years.

In a report released by an outside consultant in August, an expert on police issues said the current structure of the city’s police union was problematic.

The Pendleton report echoed, and expanded upon, disorder in the department that was found in the extensive review of Bainbridge police by the review wrapped up in by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs’ Loaned Executive Management Assistance Program, or LEMAP.

The LEMAP study found “flagrant incidents of insubordination that go unchecked” by the lieutenants, and the report noted multiple incidents that underscored “a lack of discipline in the agency, confidence and competence of the lieutenants.” Those incidents included “an officer refusing to respond to a radio call because they didn’t feel like dealing with the call” and “an officer flatly refusing to conduct a task assigned by a lieutenant, and the lieutenant doing nothing about it.”

In the Pendleton report, the consultant recounted interviews with officers who complained that the lieutenants were poor role models and were unprofessional slackers who ignored assignments.

Two of the lieutenants serve as the president and vice president of the police officers’ guild, and the Pendleton study said the rank-and-file were afraid to speak up because of retaliation.

Pendleton recommended that the city develop a plan to remove the lieutenants from the union that represents rank-and-file officers.

In the city’s petition to the Public Employment Relations Commission, Schulze said the police union, when it was formed, did not include supervisors.

Lieutenants were added to the union, Schulze said, when the city and guild agreed to an earlier contract.

Schulze said negotiations over a new contract with the police union have included the idea of removing the lieutenants from the union.

“During negotiations, the city put the guild on notice that it contested the inclusion of lieutenants in the bargaining unit on the basis of supervisory status,” Schulze wrote.

Contract negotiations continue, he added.

New Bainbridge Police Chief Matthew Hamner has been working since this summer to resolve the issues highlighted in the LEMAP review and the Pendleton report.

At the city council meeting this week, Hamner gave a detailed report on the changes that have been made within the department in recent months.

In a memo to the council and city management this week, Hamner said the department was making progress on the issues raised in the Pendleton report and its adoption of Lexipol, a policy manual that covers best practices and training for law enforcement agencies.

Hamner said there were many pieces of the Lexipol work that needed to be finished, but said all of the policies in the manual had been accepted with some minor changes.

The LEMAP review had made 81 recommendations, and in his memo to the council, Hamner said 43 of 81 had been completed.

More work needs to be done on internal affairs and use-of-force issues, as well as training, evidence and property control, and patrol and investigation functions.

In his memo, Hamner also highlighted the steps that will be taken to improve employee performance.

Lieutenants will get additional training in their supervisory roles and will be evaluated on their ability to lead and manage personnel. Professional development in specific areas of management and policing will be identified and will be mandatory, he said.

Hamner said he was working to establish his servant style of leadership in the Bainbridge department.

He recalled his efforts in the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, and how he took the initiative to help a fellow officer who had to take medical leave because of a foot injury.

Hamner remembered how the officer’s injury prevented him from doing everyday things such as mowing the lawn — so he sent his son over to mow the officer’s lawn for him.

The officer quickly noticed a teenager he didn’t know out on his lawn.

“When you’re mowing an officer’s lawn without permission, they don’t like that,” Hamner recalled with a laugh.

The officer confronted Hamner’s son, who told him his father had sent him over. When the officer tried to pay him for his work, he steadfastly refused.

The officer never forgot the good deed, and went “above and beyond” anything Hamner ever asked him to do afterward.

“As you serve people, you engender loyalty and you engender commitment,” Hamner explained.

Hamner said much progress has been made in the department, and he continues to focus on the future.

“We’ve got a lot of good, talented people here,” Hamner said.

“They are ready for a new chief and they are responding.”

“I am excited and I think we’re on the path to very good things,” he added. “I’ve already seen them and continue to see them.”


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