Openness key to strong police board
A civilian-led panel needs a boost of strength and confidence from the Seattle City Council if police accountability is to really happen.
Seattle City Council has a vested interest in an effective citizens review board to oversee police accountability. The answer is a stronger board.
Public oversight of the Seattle Police Department is a critical aspect of open government. A three-member panel was designed to monitor the department's Office of Professional Accountability, which investigates allegations of police misconduct.
But police oversight in Seattle suffers from a systemic effort to thwart public scrutiny, said University of Washington professor Eric Schanapper, a member of a separate body appointed by the City Council to examine police accountability.
Expectations of a transparent police department have languished since the Office of Professional Accountability was created in 1999 and the review panel was formed several years later.
The goal has never been to micromanage the police force or make them look bad. Misconduct in the department is "happily infrequent," said another member of the civilian board.
But maintaining the public's trust requires openness. Issues of discipline in the department remain cloaked in secret reports and unexplained decisions.
The citizens panel has challenged Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske's reversals and reduction of discipline for officers, saying the decisions, coming without explanation, erode public confidence. The chief has agreed to report publicly when he disagrees with discipline recommendations of the accountability office.
Reports on police investigations that ought to have been public have been withheld. The review board's annual report, completed in May, was not made public until after a redacted copy was obtained by The Seattle Times. It supported concerns of department obfuscation, accusing OPA and its director, Kathryn Olson, of withholding the information. Continuing squabbles undermine the public's faith in civilian oversight of the police.
Councilman Tim Burgess, chair of the council's Public Safety, Human Services and Education Committee, introduced legislation expanding the review board from three to seven members, adding more authority and clarifying the body's scope. These are smart steps that ought to refocus attention back to police accountability.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.