Oversight of Police Misconduct Cases

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) provides systemic oversight of the Seattle police system, including both the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and the Office of Police Accountability (OPA). OPA is the accountability office that investigates complaints about possible individual officer misconduct.

  • Classification: OPA classifies each complaint it receives, deciding whether a case requires a full investigation, or whether it can be handled by a supervisor. OIG is charged with making sure OPA classifies complaints appropriately, ensuring that the right level of investigation is done.
  • Investigation review: Once OPA completes an investigation, OIG examines what was done and certifies whether each investigation is objective, thorough, and timely.
  • Conflict investigations: If an allegation of misconduct involves OPA staff and presents a conflict of interest for OPA, OIG will handle the classification, investigate the case if necessary, and issue findings and recommendations. This is so that an independent office investigates possible misconduct.
  • Systemic oversight: OIG also reviews OPA for any systemic concerns, just as OIG would for any other part of SPD, and each annual report will include an analysis of how well OPA is meeting its responsibilities.

Through these oversight activities, OIG ensures accountability, transparency, and responsiveness within the complaint handling system.

Classification

OPA has received an average of 1,300 allegations of police misconduct per year over the past three years. These allegations come from both the public as well as internally from SPD. Each of these complaints is classified by OPA for what type of action is needed to appropriately respond to the complaint. Sometimes misconduct is sent to a supervisor to handle when a violation is minor or inadvertent. Mediation and rapid adjudication (where an officer admits a policy violation and accepts discipline) are sometimes options. At other times, a full investigation is needed in order to determine whether misconduct occurred. The case complaint process is detailed more fully on the OPA website. OIG reviews OPA case classifications to make sure that OPA is classifying them appropriately.

Objective, Thorough, and Timely Investigations

From the date of the complaint, OPA has 180 days to complete any administrative investigation. Witnesses are interviewed and evidence is examined, as investigators try to identify what happened and whether a police officer has violated department policy. As the investigation winds up, the investigation is reviewed by OIG. OIG will then certify whether the investigation was objective, thorough, and timely. 

OIG can suggest additional steps be taken in the course of an investigation, like ensuring a certain important witness is contacted, for example, or directing additional investigation. Once OIG certifies a case, it can be completed by the OPA director. The OPA Director issues a certification memo with findings and recommendations to the Chief of Police about whether discipline is appropriate.

OIG Conflict Investigations

OIG will at times conduct an investigation into individual conduct when there is an allegation that would be a conflict of interest for OPA to investigate. An example would be when there is a complaint about senior OPA staff. In such cases, an OIG investigator conducts interviews, examines documentary and physical evidence, and does all the necessary fact-finding to determine an outcome.

Annual Systemic Review

OIG keeps an eye on systemic issues within OPA for potential auditing. OIG will look for trends and patterns in the course of its OPA case reviews and certifications to identify any potential disparities or areas for improvement to better serve the people of Seattle.