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Saturday, February 2, 2008

OPARP Report Analysis

I've finally sifted through the mayor's review panel's report and while I think there are some changes in there that would be a good start, I think it does miss some of the more glaring problems and while it might improve things a little, it still leaves bad officers enough loopholes to keep on abusing citizens without being held accountable... and doesn't address the guild's veto capability and tendency in regards to oversight reforms. Before I list the recommendations, let's examine the gist of the report.

First, one of the recommendations deals with allowing the OPA Director to have more control over which officers he can recruit from the department for OPA duties, including investigatory roles and demands more training for these officers who are rotated in and out of the OPA department. This does not go far enough to isolate the OPA department from biased influence since there are some very public complaints from people drafted into the OPA department that state they don't want to be there.

The obvious problem here is that the OPA has to pull officers (union members) from duty where they have already developed biases against citizen complaints and are part of the "blue wall" culture that states you never snitch on fellow officers and support other officers no matter what. The OPA needs to be completely independent from the duty officers and should recruit only willing officers who will be permanent members of the internal investigations OPA section so that they are shielded from these biases and the culture of silence and cover-ups.

Some of the recommendations center on the culture of secrecy at the SPD which has, up to this point, been notoriously protective of disciplinary records and has a history of illegally denying FOIA requests for records and video associated with brutality claims. While the recommendations do encourage the SPD to be more transparent in this regard, it is a very vague and open to interpretation. I anticipate it won't lead to much change in this regard and one point the panel did not recommend is the recommendation that was legislated from the council's panel (SCCPAP) that gave the civilian oversight board (OPARB) access to unredacted disciplinary files so they could identify serial offenders and trends better.

Next, the most widely publicized recommendations (I've seen it mentioned on The Agitator and Reddit) deal with the chief being forced to document in writing when he does not follow OPA findings and disciplinary recommendations. Some of these address officer dishonesty after the chief had ignored dishonesty findings and others center around the practice of officers "withholding facts" from the OPA investigators in order to reveal them in private with the chief in order to sway his opinion against the OPA findings.

The recommendations try to address this by forcing the chief to defer investigations back to OPA when officers try to bring up new "facts" that would cause him to rule in opposition to the OPA. Of course, if the guild demands that their 180 day imposed limit on investigations cannot be extended for just cause (another recommendation) then this deferal will result in voided findings.

The complete list of summarized recommendations are as follows:

  1. The role of the OPA auditor should be clarified and expanded. It should include additional trending and analysis roles that include assessments of complaints in real-time and retrospect.

  2. The OPA Director, Auditor, and Review Board should agree on at least three focus areas for enhanced review by the auditor each year.

  3. OPA investigations should be performed seperately from any criminal or civil investigations and OPA officers should not be involved with any civil or criminal actions or investigations.

  4. The SPD should adopt a rule that forbids the use of paid leave or sick time during any unpaid disciplinary leave.

  5. The OPA should focus investigations on more serious allegations of misconduct and refer less serious charges to mediation.

  6. The OPA Director should attend all disciplinary hearings in order to identify new information that might have been withheld from investigators that would require referral back to the OPA investigation.

  7. The Chief of Police should be required to defer cases back to the OPA if any new material facts are revealed during disciplinary hearings which would cause the chief to rule in opposition to the OPA findings.

  8. The union imposed 180 day limit to investigations should be able to be expanded for just cause, (e.g. if further investigation is required due to withheld information or due to ongoing criminal investigations).

  9. The city should review and ammend it's policy in regards to "Garrity" protection and staff should be trained in its proper usage. (Garrity protections involve an officer's right to not sacrifice their right to avoid self-incrimination in order to save their jobs)

  10. OPA investigators should be specifically trained in the use of internal investigative techniques and procedures. Previously officers were sporatically and inadequately trained to perform such investigations properly.

  11. The civilian OPA Review Board (OPARB) should conduct at least four public hearings a year since they are the link between the SPD OPA and the public.

  12. The OPARB should devote time to research trends and best practices from other cities in regards to police training, oversight, and accountability and make recommendations in those regards.

  13. The OPARB should be expanded from three members to five members that reflect the diversity of Seattle's population.

  14. The Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) should make civilian advocates available to help to people who need to use the OPA process for complaints of misconduct.

  15. The OPA Director should have control of the OPA budget and report the state of that budget to the mayor and city council for annual consideration.

  16. The OPA Director should have the authority to select and transfer staff, including investigators and the Deputy Director.

  17. The OPA Director should not have worked for the city of Seattle for at least 10 years prior to being assigned as director to avoid conflicts of interest.

  18. The OPA Director should not also be a member of the SPD Firearms Review Board.

  19. The OPA Auditor should be a civilian role and remain unassociated with the SPD.

  20. The SPD should adopt a policy of automatic termination in cases of sustained findings of dishonesty within the scope of an officer's official duty or the administration of justice. Any disciplinary findings other than termination must be explained in writing by the chief and submitted to the auditor, mayor, and city council.

  21. The SPD Chief of Police should promote a high-ranking officer to an ethics officer role that would provide training and guidance to SPD officers.

  22. The SPD should adopt a policy strictly prohibiting officers from participating in retaliatory contact in response to a complaint.

  23. The SPD should implement more cultural competency training for officers.

  24. The SPD should improve it's public disclosure policies and make all disciplinary information as public as possible while still protecting the privacy of officers to the point where required by law.

  25. The SPD Chief of Police should provide written explaination whenever the chief deviates from OPA recommendations for disciplinary action. A summary of the explainations should be delivered to the city council and mayor.

  26. The OPA Director, OPA Auditor, and OPARB should meet quarterly and prepare joint semiannual recommendation reports for the mayor and city council.

  27. The Chief of Police should reply to the recommendations of the joint committee within 60 days of receiving that report that includes a list of recommendations the chief rejects and the reasons for rejection.

  28. The OPA Auditor should monitor the implementation of all accepted recommendations and give progress reports on a semiannual basis.

  29. The OPA Director should document all correspondence with the OPA Auditor and OPARB in regards to disciplinary processes and the oversight system.

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