King County Council OKs closer watch on deputies' use of force
The 18 recommendations unanimously adopted Monday by the Metropolitan King County Council were drawn from two recent consultants' reports that were critical of Sheriff's Office oversight, particularly in investigating use-of-force incidents.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Metropolitan King County Council has unanimously approved a list of recommendations aimed at bolstering the way the Sheriff's Office investigates use-of-force incidents involving deputies, as well as citizen complaints.
The 18 recommendations adopted Monday were drawn from two recent consultants' reports that were critical of Sheriff's Office oversight, particularly in how it investigates use-of-force incidents.
Among the recommendations, the Sheriff's Office will be required to:
• Develop more detailed standards and procedures for reporting, documenting and investigating complaints against deputies;
• Realign command staff so the internal-investigations commander reports directly to the sheriff;
• Provide ongoing training for supervisors on how to investigate and document misconduct complaints; and
• Develop leadership expectations that all complaints, misconduct and policy violations will be reported.
The council is also requiring the Sheriff's Office to work in collaboration with the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) to plan and develop oversight guidelines. The OLEO was created by the council in 2006 to receive, monitor and track personnel complaints against the Sheriff's Office.
Councilmember Bob Ferguson, who co-sponsored the legislation, said in an interview Tuesday that the council's goal in adopting the recommendations "is to bring us to a level that the people of King County expect. Are we there right now? No. Do we have work to do? You bet."
Under the council's plan, Sheriff Steve Strachan is required to implement the recommendations and report back to the council on his progress. Strachan said he won't have specific deadlines.
"What they're looking for is that we're continually checking back. They're making sure that we continue being on the same page," Strachan said.
Strachan said that he supports the council recommendations, as well as the recommendations in the two consultant reports.
One report, released last week by a Los Angeles-based police-accountability consulting firm, outlined 25 recommendations to bolster oversight.
The report, written by Merrick Bobb, the head of the Police Assessment Resource Center, recommended the Sheriff's Office create a Use of Force Review Board to examine all shootings and other serious use-of-force incidents involving deputies. The new board would replace the current sheriff's Shooting Review Board, which Bobb's report criticized for an "absence of serious and explicit reasoning" in its findings.
The board could include a civilian member, Bobb wrote.
Bobb's report also recommended that the Sheriff's Office compel deputies to make a recorded statement immediately after every use-of-force incident, instead of allowing them up to 72 hours to submit a written report. Bobb noted that in a review of 15 shootings, including eight that were fatal, deputies' statements were "often truncated and self-serving."
A separate audit by a Chicago consulting firm, presented to the council's Government Accountability, Oversight and Financial Performance Committee in July, found serious deficiencies in the sheriff's internal-investigation procedures. Among the findings: In all of 2011, the sheriff's Internal Investigations Unit reviewed only two use-of-force complaints for a department that employs about 700 deputies.
The King County Police Officers Guild has not returned calls for comment on the recommendations. Strachan has said that following some of the recommendations would require bargaining with the guild.
The issue of deputy oversight has been on the minds of council members since OLEO was created, said Councilmember Julia Patterson. The Police Assessment Resource Center recommended a vastly stronger role for the OLEO head, including a nonvoting spot on the proposed Use of Force Review panel and a role in deputy-involved shooting investigations.
Strachan, who was named sheriff in April, is up for election this fall against former longtime Sheriff's Office spokesman John Urquhart.
Strachan said that the Sheriff's Office hopes to launch a new Use of Force Panel this month. The panel, made up of deputies, would initially review only non-deadly use-of-force cases. Eventually, after bargaining with the guild, Strachan hopes to add civilian members to the panel, as well as have the group review deadly use-of-force incidents.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.