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Police Accountability: Serving Seattle

Background:

The City of Seattle's system for insuring police accountability has three distinct, independent components: the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) director, the OPA auditor and the OPA Review Board.

The Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) was created by the Seattle City Council in 1999 after members of the community voiced their concern about police accountability. The office handles complaints about the conduct of officers of the Seattle Police Department. OPA includes a civilian director - who reports to the police chief - and an auditor- who reports to the Mayor and the City Council.

Both positions are nominated by the Mayor and confirmed by the council. OPA's civilian director heads up the Seattle Police Department's Internal Investigations Section. The Section, staffed by police commanders and officers, investigates complaints by civilians about police misconduct. After an investigation is completed, OPA's director makes recommendations to the police chief about what, if any, disciplinary actions should be taken. In May 2007, Council members approved Kathryn Olson's appointment as the director of OPA. Olson has 25 years experience as a lawyer. She says she's committed to overseeing cases in a timely manner while ensuring fairness and justice.

OPA's auditor reviews the police departments' internal investigations while they are being conducted. The auditor recommends to the OPA director when the director should investigate a complaint further and may also require additional investigation under certain circumstances. The OPA auditor also audits any and all OPA records to review them for thoroughness, fairness and timeliness. In addition, twice a year, the auditor reports on how these internal investigations are being conducted. In April 2009, former King County Superior Court Judge Michael Spearman was nominated by the Mayor as the new OPA auditor.

Back in 2002, wanting more citizen oversight, City Council members created the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board (OPARB). OPARB evaluates the misconduct complaint handling process, monitors local and national trends in police practices and oversight, and conducts regular community-listening and outreach efforts. OPARB is made up of seven citizens appointed by the City Council. Currently the OPARB members are: Tina Bueche, a small business owner in Pioneer Square; George Davenport, a lawyer and Chief Operating Officer at First African Methodist Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill; Sharon Dear, a litigation defense lawyer and former deputy prosecuting attorney; Steven Freng, a clinical psychologist specializing in drug prevention and treatment; Martha Nordberg, a CPA and former sworn law enforcement officer; Patrick Sainsbury, designated as chair of the Board who led the fraud division of the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office for 26 years; and, David Wilma, a free-lance writer and former sworn law enforcement officer.



Latest news:

Council confirms former Judge Michael Spearman as police auditor

On June 8, 2009, the Seattle City Council confirmed former Judge Michael Spearman as the new Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) auditor. Spearman told the council, “I will do my best to insure that we have a fair, thorough and progressive policy in regards to investigating all complaints of [police] misconduct.” The auditor plays a key role in Seattle’s system of police accountability.

Last year, Former Mayor Greg Nickels and the City Council agreed to expand the powers of the auditor in order to strengthen the City’s process for investigating police misconduct. Spearman’s powers as auditor include recommending to the OPA director when the director should investigate a complaint further. The auditor may also require additional investigation under certain circumstances. In addition, the OPA auditor examines any and all OPA records to review them for thoroughness, fairness and timeliness.

Spearman was King County Superior Court judge from 1993 to 2007. Currently, he is a mediator and arbitrator at Judicial Dispute Resolution, providing services in all types of civil matters. You can read more about his background in Clerk File 309978. Spearman will serve for a three-year term and can earn up to $143,000 annually at an hourly rate of $160.



Previous updates

Mayor nominates former Judge Michael Spearman as police auditor

On April 20, 2009, Former Mayor Greg Nickels nominated former Judge Michael Spearman as the new Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) auditor.

"Judge Spearman is an excellent fit for this important position," said Nickels. "He has the integrity, temperament and reputation to continue making a great department even better."

"I am honored to be appointed to this position," said Spearman. "I look forward to working with OPA director Kathryn Olson and the members of the [OPA] Review Board to ensure an open and fair accountability process for Seattle's police officers and the citizens they serve."

The three parts of Seattle's police oversight include: the OPA auditor, the OPA director, and the OPA Review Board (OPARB). The OPA auditor's position was expanded last year after the Mayor's Police Accountability Review Panel called for 29 changes to Seattle's police accountability system.

The auditor recommends to the OPA director when the director should investigate a complaint further and may also require additional investigation under certain circumstances. The OPA auditor examines any and all OPA records to review them for thoroughness, fairness and timeliness.

Spearman was King County Superior Court judge from 1993 to 2007. Currently, he is a mediator and arbitrator at Judicial Dispute Resolution, providing services in all types of civil matters.

Spearman's appointment is subject to confirmation by the Seattle City Council.

Mayor appoints 11-member panel to review police accountability

In July, Former Mayor Greg Nickels announced a panel to review Seattle's police accountability system. The 11-member panel includes Former Mayor Norm Rice and Former Governor Gary Locke.

While Nickels said he's happy with Seattle's current system, he added, there's always room for improvements. Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske also supports the panel and their mission to improve police accountability.

The panel will review the structure and process of the current police accountability system. Their process will be open to the public and they'll be seeking community input. A final report was due to the Mayor in November.

Read more about the Mayor's panel.

Office of Professional Accountability Review Board gets new powers

The silence from OPARB was heard at City Hall. On May 30, 2006, City Council members unanimously passed a bill give them access to unredacted files and grant them legal protection. Members will now have the same amount of liability coverage as all City employees. Under the regulations of the new bill, OPARB members will not be able to disclose any of the names of police officers to the public. The bill was sponsored by Council President Nick Licata and will go into effect when the current police contract expires at the end of the year.



Watch Videos:

City Council Committee Meeting: Evaluating former judge as new police auditor, May 5, 2009
On May 5, 2009, the Seattle City Council's Public Safety, Human Services and Education Committee, considered the nomination of former Judge Michael Spearman as the new auditor of the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA). As auditor, Spearman would be a key member of the City's police oversight system. If confirmed Spearman would be able to audit any ongoing OPA investigation into complaints of police misconduct. Also Spearman would twice yearly inform the council, the mayor and the public about the overall quality and trends of internal investigations by the Seattle Police Department into allegations of officer wrongdoing.

City Inside/Out: Seattle Police Department 3/20/2009
It's official -- Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske has been nominated by President Barack Obama to be the nation's next drug czar. As he goes through Senate confirmation, the pressure is on to find his replacement. On this City Inside/Out, we take a look at the search for the next Seattle police chief. Is there an heir-apparent within the Seattle Police Department? And what criteria should the mayor use to pick Chief Kerlikowske's successor? Our panel will discuss the state of law and order as well as police-community relations in our town.



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