The Seattle City Council has approved Pierce Murphy, a police ombudsman from Boise, Idaho, to head the Seattle Police Department Office of Police Accountability (OPA).
Mayor Mike McGinn nominated Murphy to fill the position earlier this spring. Councilmember Bruce Harrell was initially skeptical of the selection. Harrell worried Murphy was not prepared for Seattle’s larger population and greater ethnic diversity.
Murphy, who won over the council and city officials, took office July 1.
“I believe Pierce will be a key component to the ongoing, long-term efforts to reform our police department,” City Attorney Pete Holmes said June 19 to the council’s public safety committee.
Murphy spoke at length that day of his commitment to representing the entire community.
“Part of my reason for being here is to use the talents I’ve been given, the opportunities that I have, the privilege that I come from and to put it at the service of the community I live in,” Murphy said.
Murphy joins Seattle at a pivotal time in the Seattle Police Department. A 2011 report from the Department of Justice (DOJ) found that Seattle officers have a pattern and practice of excessive force.
The city entered into a court-ordered settlement agreement with the DOJ that includes changes to the OPA as recommended by the newly formed Community Police Commission, a 15-member panel of citizens, police accountability advocates and SPD officers and sergeants.
Before coming to Seattle, Murphy served as the Boise, Idaho, police ombudsman, a position he held since 1999, following a high-profile shooting there. He has since become a well-known figure in the police accountability world.
According to city of Boise reports, Murphy has fielded fewer complaints against the police department every year since 2006.
Murphy credits that decline to the work he did building relationships between the police and the community.
“I saw that there was a crisis of trust between the community and the police that served it,” Murphy said.
He hoped to do the same thing in Seattle and promised to hold weekly meetings with the community. He talked about racial bias and privilege.
The DOJ investigation did not conclude that Seattle officers were racially biased, but community groups have suspected they are. Murphy assumes that Seattle has the same biases found in every other law enforcement organization.
“I think bias exists in every facet of our lives, in every institution that we have,” he said.