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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Washington

Friday, January 22, 2016

Assessment of the Seattle Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability Filed with Court

SEATTLE – The assessment of the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) was filed with the Court today.  The assessment constitutes the sixth – of 15 total – formal assessments by the Federal Monitor overseeing whether SPD is complying with the specific requirements and overall goals of the consent decree.  The assessment examined the intake of complaints, and investigations of officer misconduct. 

The previous five assessments – which can be found here and here – related to SPD’s use of force reporting investigations and found that, with respect to four of them, SPD was in “initial compliance” with the requirements of the consent decree.  The assessment filed today was not designed to evaluate compliance with specific terms of the consent decree.  Rather, it sought to provide information that would guide (1) revisions to two OPA policies and the OPA Training and Operations Manual (filed with the Court this week), and (2) the process currently underway for evaluating proposals to improve the civilian oversight and accountability system. 

“At the heart of this assessment is a core goal of reform: ensuring that complaints about officer misconduct are handled transparently, expeditiously, and with integrity,” said Annette L. Hayes, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington.  “This assessment has already informed changes to the way OPA works, and will be critical in further refining how civilian oversight works in Seattle.” 

The civilian-led OPA conducts SPD’s complaint-driven administrative investigations of officer misconduct.  The OPA assessment specifically evaluated the effectiveness of three areas of these administrative investigations: (1) the design of the process and protocols; (2) the adjudication/review phase; and (3) the investigations themselves.

The Monitor concluded, as to design of the process, that SPD’s complaint investigation process is “exceptionally strong and very well structured.”  The Monitor noted that the process requires extensive documentation and redundancy from intake to follow-up to case summary to case completion with internal and external transparency built into the structure.  The Monitor also noted that the classifications and findings systems that the Department of Justice – and many community members – concluded were too complex and undermined credibility have been streamlined. 

With respect to the effectiveness of adjudication and review, the Monitor concluded that the “back-end” review phase is “among the strongest we have seen,” noting significant advances since DOJ concluded in its investigation in 2011 that OPA overused and misused a now-defunct remediation of “Supervisory Intervention” to dispose of serious complaints.

In the third area of review – the strength of the investigations themselves – the Monitor found the quality of 86 percent of OPA’s investigations are either adequate or superior.  To the extent there were inadequate investigations that did not establish sufficient information to support an evidence-based evaluation of an incident, the Monitor identified three areas: (1) the quality and consistency of interviews; (2) the timeliness of interviews; and (3) those investigations that raise potential criminal or terminable offenses (such as false statements).  The full OPA assessment is attached below.

Upcoming Assessments

The Monitor’s assessment of Public Confidence and Trust in the Seattle Police Department will be filed next week.  That assessment evaluates SPD efforts at promoting public confidence in SPD, its officers, and the services SPD delivers.  

The next assessment to be filed will address crisis-intervention and the dispatching of crisis-trained officers.  Also filed in February will be an assessment of the Early Intervention System.  In March, assessments relating to supervisors, stops and detentions, and three use of force-related assessments covering officer uses of force, use of force data and officer activity level will be filed.




Office and Personnel Updates
Civil Rights
Updated February 4, 2016