Councilmember Tim Burgess
Councilmember Bruce Harrell
CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT OF POLICE STRENGTHENED
Public Safety Chair says, “…a new era of greater civilian oversight of police.”
SEATTLE – The City Council today adopted changes to police accountability laws that will strengthen Seattle’s system of civilian oversight of police conduct.
The measures passed today give the civilian auditor of police internal investigations more authority, including the power to order further investigation into misconduct complaints. The Council also voted to expand the civilian Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) Review Board to seven members and required greater collaboration between the Board, the civilian Auditor, and the civilian director of OPA. The changes also require the police chief to file written explanations with the Mayor and City Council whenever he reverses the recommended findings of the OPA.
“These changes mark the beginning of a new era in police accountability,” said Councilmember Tim Burgess, chair of the Public Safety, Human Services, and Education Committee. “We have strengthened civilian oversight by giving more authority and responsibilities to the civilian leaders who oversee police practices and behavior in our city. We have created more transparency. These changes will help create stronger public trust and confidence in our police officers.”
Councilmember Bruce Harrell, vice-chair of the Public Safety, Human Services, and Education Committee said, “This new law makes clear the police have overarching responsibility for the outcome of encounters with citizens—whether they are criminals, under the influence, law-abiding, or persons with mental impairment. Good police work is a reflection of the values on which our police department and our accountability system operates, as well as the actions that follow.”
Seattle’s system of police oversight is unique in the country and involves three separate parts—the Office of Professional Accountability which investigates misconduct complaints and is headed by a civilian director, the civilian OPA Auditor who monitors investigations, and the now seven-member OPA Review Board, a group of civilians who evaluates the complaint handling process, reviews police conduct trends and patterns compared to best practices, and conducts community listening and outreach.
The changes adopted by the Council today were previously agreed to by the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, the union representing rank and file officers and detectives.