The St. Paul Police Federation is opposing the city’s plan to hire a civilian scientist to run its troubled crime lab, which is undergoing major changes.

Federation attorney Chris Wachtler sent Police Chief Thomas Smith two letters in February stating that the move constituted a “unilateral change” in the union’s terms and conditions of employment.

The federation believes the lab should be managed by a sworn officer, as was common practice until a challenge in Dakota County District Court last year revealed major problems with the lab’s work and scientific credibility. The city rejected the federation’s claim.

“The general concern is that they have removed a member of our bargaining unit from the crime lab,” Wachtler said.

Sgt. Shay Shackle oversaw the lab from 2001 until last July, when courtroom testimony revealed that lab staff did not follow basic scientific procedures. He was reassigned, and consultants later recommended changes, including hiring trained scientists.

Earlier this year the city created and posted a forensic lab manager job that required a scientific background as part of a larger effort to boost the lab’s credibility.

In a response dated Feb. 25, Jason Schmidt, the city’s labor relations manager, wrote that Shackle’s reassignment did not affect the bargaining unit.

Both sides will meet March 7 to discuss the matter.

chao xiong