This week’s Public Safety and Human Resources committee meeting heard the 2020 annual report from the OPA (slide deck here
). CM Herbold opened the meeting by talking about the swinging pendulum of racial justice and her fear that City Hall is losing its sense of urgency. She directly stated her belief that the consent decree is a barrier, while also going over the last year’s achievements.
The OPA annual report shows us that 40% of sworn SPD officers received at least one complaint in 2020, with professionalism, use of force, and bias being the three most common complaints. Use of force complaints rose dramatically. 18% of OPA investigations resulted in sustained findings, and disciplinary appeals decreased 70% from 2019.
Director Myerberg reported on his progress with the investigation into the six SPD officers present in Washington DC on January 6 during the insurrection. He expects to issue his findings in the case in early July. The Terry Carver case is also completed but the findings haven’t been issued; he expects an update there within 30 days.
Director Myerberg also talked about his efforts to change state law in order to reform the objective reasonableness standard in his investigations, which is extremely preferential to police officers; this reform was not enacted by the state but could be worth some energy to pass in a future session. There was also some discussion of how the SPOG contract prevents the OPA from hiring more than two civilian investigators; some experts believe having at least 50% civilian investigators could lead to better accountability. He called out the enacted state decertification bill, saying it could be a sea change on police accountability. He closed by saying Seattle is using the best existing model for accountability systems and cautioning against change that isn’t driven by research and data.
The new board will have powers beyond this: It will be able to investigate police misconduct — and, to complete its work, will be able to subpoena documents and compel the release of evidence, witness testimony, and the cooperation of sworn officers. Rather than recommend discipline, the board will impose it itself — it will even be able to fire officers, including those found to have lied when presenting evidence or testimony during the course of the inquiry.
And the new board will have the ability to make policy; should the department reject a rule created by the board, that rule will automatically be sent to the city council for a vote, and the council could vote to institute it.