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Oversight


July 14, 2008 I was recently nominated to be a member of the Seattle Police Department Office of Professional Accountability Review Board. This is a seven member panel of citizens which oversees the office that investigates allegations of police misconduct and the discipline system. (That’s me, lower right, at the police academy in 1970, not the new board.) This is actually the second iteration of this board which, for seven years, consisted of three members. Complaints about the structure and authority of the oversight system led to two different evaluation committees in 2007. The new setup was signed off by the mayor and the police officers guild, and now the city council will enact legislation to implement the changes. One change is expanding the board from three to seven members.

I had seen in the newspaper that the city was looking for people with a law enforcement background. That was me. And I needed a new intellectual challenge. This seems to be a good fit. Of course there will be meetings, lots of them.

We won’t be reviewing individual investigations, but will be monitoring the whole process, conducting community outreach, and keeping up with other developments in the field of police accountability.

August 12, 2008 The City Council confirmed my appointment last night. Here is my testimony before the Public Safety Committee of the Seattle City Council a week ago.

November 1, 2008 The review board job is slow to get off the ground. We have had just one meeting and most of it was taken up with training on how to conduct meetings, how not to have meetings (too many emails can be a meeting), how to preserve records, and how to talk to the press (try not to). With seven accomplished and busy people, just finding times when we can all meet proved the biggest challenge. We want to have two meetings a month, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, to allow for public participation. When we finally came up with one good date, I will be out of town. But I pledged to call it in (which we can do) from Oregon.

The other aspect of the job has been training. I participated in sessions for the officers who staff the internal investigations section, for lawyers wanting to help mediate complaints, and, every Thursday evening, the community police academy.

On top of all that the city council sent me to Cincinnati for five days for the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement conference. Folks from all over the nation and several foreign countries gathered to share information on structure, trends, problems, and accomplishments. Being so new to the job I had little to offer.

But I learned many things including the unique issues of domestic violence by police officers (far greater than with the general population), the tightening standards for officer dishonesty, and the extent to which civilian oversight bodies have reduced the number and types of complaints.

One thing that gets a lot of play in the press is racial profiling, the idea of targeting police services based on race. When I was a DEA agent in the 1970s we did racial profiling as we looked for drug couriers at the airport. The process was even written down. In the 21st Century this is frowned upon (profiling, not writing things down).

The problem is that, absent some spoken slur, it is nearly impossible to demonstrate a racial element in police interactions with the public. In hundreds of racial profiling complaints against the LAPD perhaps three could be tagged as having a racist element.

Instead, the presenters said, we should be looking at the constitutionality of the stops themselves. If an officer stops a SUV with heavily tinted windows at night in a high crime area for a tail light infraction, why did the occupants spend half an hour seated on the curb in handcuffs? Some issues just require a new approach and, of course, more training.

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#committees #SeattlePD #justicesystem #civilianoversight #volunteer

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