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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Analyzing The OPARP Report Preview

An interesting glimpse of the planned Office of Professional Accountability Review Panel's final report to Mayor Greg Nickels was revealed today by the Seattle Times, (see sidebar), even though it reportedly isn't due until January 29.

The recommendations revealed so far seem to be on course and include:

  1. Expand the duties of the SPD Internal Investigation's Civilian Auditor to include more in-depth reviews of the SPD's internal affairs cases and to improve transparency of investigative findings for the public.
  2. Make the falsification of testimony, during internal investigations or otherwise, by officers an offense that results in an automatic termination of employment.
  3. Require the chief of police to explain his reasons, in writing, anytime he does not fire officers for false testimony.
  4. Require the chief of police to explain his reasons, in writing, for deviating from the Office of Professional Accountability findings and recommendations in regard to officer discipline in cases of confirmed misconduct.
  5. Require the chief of police to refer cases back to the Office of Professional Accountability anytime an officer provides the chief with testimony that deviates from what was given during an internal investigation.
  6. Prevent officers from using vacation or sick time when they are suspended without pay as the result of a finding of misconduct.
These recommendations seem to go pretty far towards addressing the problems which prompted the mayor to create this panel, and so far the city government seems to be behind these ideas, even the mayor. Indeed, the city council has already enacted some of these recommendations when they came from their own review panel, the Seattle City Council Police Accountability Panel (SCCPAP).

However, the big question now is whether or not the city can even implement any of these changes since the Seattle Police Officer's Guild (SPOG) has successfully fought some of these reforms through complaints to the Public Employee Relations Committee (PERC) when they were enacted by city council last year (here).
Indeed, the guild insists that it will only consider "small tweaks" to the current system in 2010, even though Seattle police officers are currently working without a contract thanks to stalled contract talks between the SPOG and the city. Given the recent ruling by the PERC, the SPOG has the ability to refuse any changes to the currently broken accountability process, which will likely delay any contract negotiations indefinitely.

Since the current PERC ruling effectively makes the city powerless to hold officers accountable for misconduct, council member Nick Licata is insisting that the city must fight the ruling through appeals. Otherwise, even the best recommendations in the world made by the OPARP and SCCPAP won't be worth the paper they are printed on because they will never make it past the contract negotiating table. This delay only serves to make the guild's anti-accountability position stronger as it continues to invest money in public relations firms and advertising campaigns against the city.

Indeed, after the public has waited all this time to see if these review panels would recommend any meaningful changes, it is utterly frustrating for everyone to see that the Seattle city government is receptive to these reasonable recommendations, yet utterly powerless to enact them thanks to the Seattle Police Officer's Guild's rabid opposition to accountability and transparency to the public they supposedly serve. One wonders if maybe the US Department of Justice might have to step in if the city cannot successfully appeal the PERC ruling since such a result will effectively mean that the Seattle Police Department will become a rogue agency that cannot be managed by the local government anymore due to their overwhelming advantage at the bargaining table and their persistent resistance to changes to the broken accountability process.

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