The Seattle City Council this week unanimously passed a bill to restore the Office of the Professional Accountability Review Board's citizen-review function, as intended by the council when it passed the original enacting legislation in 1999.
Soon after the passage of the original legislation, the city made an agreement with the Seattle Police Officers Guild to change the law so that the board could only review reports that eliminated the officers' names. The difficulty of reading these files — with the names of police department employees crossed out if they happen to be the subject of or witness to a complaint — has made it difficult for the board to make sense of these closed cases. It has also prevented them from determining patterns of complaints.
The bill's sponsor, Council President Nick Licata, said, "I'm looking forward to seeing — for the very first time — Seattle's police accountability structure work as it was originally intended by the City Council. This is an important step necessary to foster the full confidence of the public in its police department."
Additionally, the bill clarifies that review board members have no greater liability than other city employees and restates that board members may not disclose any identifying information they find in the course of their review.