Council: Police chief must explain disciplinary reversals in writing
Seattle police Chief Gil Kerlikowske will be required to explain, in writing, why he chooses to overturn discipline findings made by the...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle police Chief Gil Kerlikowske will be required to explain, in writing, why he chooses to overturn discipline findings made by the civilian director of the internal investigations department, the City Council decided today.
The new requirement, which will take effect Jan. 1, was passed after council members became concerned when the police chief exonerated officers accused of misconduct. The mayor has also called together an expert panel to examine the city's system of police oversight and make recommendations.
"This is to make sure that we not only have a strong system of police accountability but that we also have public trust," said Councilmember David Della, who co-sponsored the legislation with council members Nick Licata and Richard McIver.
The Office of Professional Accountability, the Police Department's internal investigations unit, examines complaints made by members of the public about police officers. The civilian director reports the office's findings to the police chief, who then makes a decision on discipline. In some cases, the police chief has reversed the director's findings, but he is not required to document why.
The chief was criticized for his disciplinary decisions in two cases. In one, the credibility of two officers was questioned because of discrepancies between a video of a drug arrest and their police report.
In a separate incident, the chief exonerated two officers involved with the beating and arrest of a Capitol Hill bar patron, even though the Office of Professional Accountability recommended they be punished. A sergeant considered responsible for the incident did not face discipline because a 180-day contractual deadline for punishment had expired.
Marianne Bichsel, spokeswoman for Mayor Greg Nickels, said, "The mayor has said that this idea has merit and that the expert panel should look at it."
Terrence Carroll, the chair of the panel, said the group has not yet identified specific issues, but that requiring the police chief to explain his disciplinary reversals "is very likely going to be one of the recommendations we will consider."
The Seattle Police Officers' Guild, which is negotiating a labor contract with the city, says the City Council's changes might not be legal.
"The preliminary thought with the attorneys is that there are grounds for an unfair labor practice," said Sgt. Rich O'Neill, president of the guild. He also questioned the timing, and said the council is trying to get out ahead of the work of the mayor's panel.
Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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