In labor negotiations, as in romance, it takes two to tango. To make a solid deal at the negotiating table, labor must be on one side, and management on the other.

While the Oakland Police Officers’ Association (OPOA) has an experienced bargaining team, until recently, Chief of Police Wayne Tucker was the only sworn member of the Oakland Police Department who wasn’t also a member of the union.

To balance the table, Tucker assigned the police department’s deputy chiefs to participate in negotiations on the management team. This presented an apparent — if not actual — conflict of interest: how could the public have faith in any contract negotiated with OPOA members on both sides of the table?

To address this issue, in June 2006, the City of Oakland took action to remove the deputy chiefs from the current OPOA bargaining unit. Separate management bargaining units are a common practice in law enforcement. Of the ten largest cities in California, Oakland is the only one that includes sworn managers in the same bargaining unit as sworn officers.

The OPOA has since sued the City over this action. The status of the deputy chiefs remains a contentious issue and speaks to some of the deep-rooted problems that pervade the Oakland Police Department.

Police ranks of lieutenant and above are often responsible for the creation and enforcement of department policy. The abuses of power found in the “Riders” case are representative of a failure by management to exercise proper oversight and to implement proper disciplinary policy. These events are symptomatic of a system in which disciplinary cases are subject to union influence and are settled by behind-the-scenes dealing.

In the wake of this scandal, and in response to the recent rise in violent crime, the public is demanding change in the way the Oakland Police Department goes about its business. In 2005, the City selected a new Chief of Police, who provided a vision for systemic change, and is aggressively trying to reform the department. Now, we must also ensure that he has a management team — in both real and symbolic terms — to help meet the public’s need for improved service.

The OPOA’s lawsuit over Oakland’s deputy chiefs challenges the process of their removal from the bargaining unit, not the importance of having a unit of managers directly accountable to the Chief.

As early as 1995, a study of the Oakland Police Department noted:

It is problematic that the department’s labor bargaining unit for sworn officers includes managers through the rank of Deputy Chief… It is inappropriate for these managers to be included in the same labor bargaining unit.

A more recent report found that the conflict of interest created by a single bargaining unit may contribute to the department’s struggle with overtime pay.

A strong, separate management team is an essential element both to successfully negotiating changes to the contract between the City and the OPOA, and to successfully reforming the department to improve police services.

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of a series that includes: