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City of Bainbridge Island gives up on attempt to break up police union

The city of Bainbridge Island has abandoned its plan to break up the union that represents the police department’s line officers and lieutenants.

David I. Gedrose of the Public Employment Relations Commission, the agency that handles disputes involving public employees, said the city withdrew its petition to have the police department’s lieutenants removed from the city’s police union.

The petition was withdrawn on July 1, before either the city or the union filed closing briefs on the labor dispute.

The city launched its effort last October to have the four lieutenants removed from the union that represents Bainbridge police officers.

Hearings on the city’s petition started in April, and the process was expected to come to a close in the weeks ahead.

The move came after two outside reviews of the police department found multiple problems with lieutenants who were acting as managers but were also officials in the police union.

Michael Pendleton, an independent consultant hired by Bainbridge Island to review its police department, said the department is plagued by poor first-line supervision, poor communication and divided community support for the police department.

Pendleton said the current structure of the city’s police union was problematic because of the lieutenants’ role as supervisors but also union representatives of those who defended officers faced with disciplinary actions.

The Pendleton report echoed, and expanded upon, disorder in the department that was found in the extensive review of Bainbridge police 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 were then serving 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.

The city’s attempt to carve the lieutenants out of the union, however, has now been shelved.

City Manager Doug Schulze noted the recent retirement of two of the city’s four lieutenants.

“Given the fact that two out of four of the lieutenant positions are currently vacant, we thought this would be a good opportunity to work with the guild to make changes to the organizational structure,” Schulze said.

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