The Council's Public Safety and Education Committee heard testimony on Wednesday morning from representatives of the Police Department's Office of Professional Accountability (OPA). Two significant written reports were presented to the Committee and they are worthy of review because they shed a bright light on exactly what happens when complaints of police misconduct are investigated. You can watch the Committee briefing here.
The first report presented to the Committee was the 2010 Statistics Report from the OPA. At the Committee's request, the annual statistics report was modified to make it easier to read and to place the statistics into a more consumable format that allows for identification of trends. The report highlights include:
- The total number of complaints received increased to 585 in 2010 from 516 in 2009, an increase of 13%. "Use of force" complaints, a subset of the total complaints received, increased by 30%. (Police officers in Seattle arrest over 20,000 inividuals a year; there are hundreds of thousands of total documented officer-citizen interactions a year.)
- The most frequent complaint received by the OPA involves rudeness, lack of courtesy and officer attitudes.
- 65% of all complaints in 2010 were filed against patrol officers, the police department's first responders to most incidents. The remaining complaints were filed against other ranks or civilian employees. Patrol officers make up 89% of the police department's total employees.
- 82.5% of police officers received no complaints in 2010; 14% received one complaint; 2.7% received two complaints (36 officers); less than 1% received three or more complaints.
- Officers working the West Precinct (downtown, Chinatown/ID, Pioneer Square, Queen Anne and Magnolia) received the highest number of complaints (110), followed by the North Precinct (66). The Southwest Precinct (West Seattle) had the lowest number of complaints.
Some members of the community believe that use of force complaints are underreported because citizens are leery of complaining or don't trust the OPA to properly investigate such complaints. Kathryn Olson, the civilian director of the OPA, told the Committee yesterday that the police department will retain outside researchers to conduct a review of the use of force by police officers to determine whether officers are properly documenting use of force and whether citizens are failing to complain when they believe improper force was used. (The police department contends that Seattle officers use force far less frequently than the national average.)
The second report was the semi-annual report of the OPA civilian auditor, Anne Levinson. Judge Levinson's report is a narrative of her work from December 2010 through May 2011. The civilian auditor reviews every complaint received by the OPA to make certain it is classified correctly. She also reviews every complaint investigation to determine if the case file is complete, the investigation thorough, and whether she agrees with the conclusion. The auditor has the authority to direct further investigation, if necessary. Judge Levinson gives the OPA high marks for the quality of investigations and how complainants and officers are treated during the investigations process. She is critical of the police department for not implementing changes to training and other policy changes more quickly. She also observes that the use of patrol car video technology is inconsistent and she reveals that some officers, including supervisors, have not received video technology training.
Judge Levinson points out that the police department faces a potential expertise continuity problem because of the large number of retirement-qualified officers and the fact that Mayor McGinn stopped all police hiring in 2010. She argues that recruit quality suffers when hiring quantities swing wildly from year to year. The Council will address this issue during our fall budget deliberations.
Seattle's three-prong system of civilian oversight is unique in the United States. It involves a civilian director of the OPA, a civilian auditor with extensive authority, and a seven-member civilian review board.