It's not exactly the overhaul that the NAACP has been calling for in the city's police oversight system, but City Council President Nick Licata says legislation he introduced Sept. 18 is at least a start.
The bill, which Licata announced at a press conference last week with Councilmember David Della, would require the chief of police to file a written report with the council any time he lets an officer slide on the punishment recommended by the director of the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), the police unit that takes complaints of misconduct
The legislation, which is also backed by Councilmember Richard McIver, would also create a separate OPA line item in the city budget to ensure that all funds allocated for the OPA are spent -- a measure to keep the chief from dawdling. After authorizing funds for an additional complaint investigator last year, Licata said, the council had to intervene to get the chief to make the hire
The bill is aimed at raising police accountability -- something the NAACP has been demanding in the wake of controversial arrests of African-Americans who say the police roughed them up. A task force appointed by the mayor is currently looking into police oversight practices, but, until it makes recommendations later this year, Licata said, the bill is one small step.
"It's modest, it's needed, it's not controversial, and it's all about transparency," OPA Review Board member Peter Holmes said at the press conference.
Harry Gilchrest, who says the police assaulted him twice in front of his West Seattle home ["Getting the Story Straight," July 13, 2005], agrees. If the chief puts his decisions in writing, Gilchrest says, "then you have a track record, something to follow what he based his decision on instead of something that was being said.
Local NAACP chief James Bible says many other problems need to be solved, however, such as improving the appeal process for complainants and punishing officers who lie. "We only think of this as a first step," Bible says. "There's so much more that needs to occur."