The Seattle City Council unanimously passed a key measure to increase accountability and transparency in the Seattle Police Department. The new legislation would require that when the chief of police and the director of the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) — the civilian watchdog charged with investigating allegations of police wrongdoing — disagree about the settlement of an officer misconduct complaint, each would provide a written explanation of the basis of the disagreement.
"The public has a right to know why the police chief would overrule the OPA director's discipline recommendations," said Council President Nick Licata.
Councilmember David Della said, "This new law builds trust between the Seattle Police Department and the citizens by promoting accountability. This is a commonsense measure that is long overdue."
This law comes after several high profile cases where the police chief overruled the OPA director's recommendations for discipline. On July 2, 2007, the Council's OPA Review Board issued a report (accessible on the web at www.seattle.gov/council/oparb/) that looked at cases from the past few years where the chief of police disagreed with the OPA director.
The report concluded, "(the review board) recommends that the Chief of Police state his reasons in writing for overruling any proposed OPA finding or disposition." In 1999, Judge Charles Johnson's Blue Ribbon Panel reached the same conclusion and former Mayor Paul Schell and then-Police Chief Norm Stamper adopted the recommendation as an administrative matter, although it did not have the force of law. In recent years, the police chief has not been providing such written explanations, however.