County’s cops under fire
King County Sheriff's Office use of force, lax oversight cited in external audit
Seattle’s Police Department is not the only law enforcement agency with cop trouble.
The King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) does a poor job investigating officer misconduct, and its oversight committee rubber stamps “justified” on nearly every officer-involved shooting, according to an audit released Sept. 11 by the Los Angeles-based Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC).
Sheriff Steven Strachan, who is up for re-election, said he accepts the audit and will bring change to the agency.
“I am on board,” Strachan said. “We are going to make these changes. We’ve already begun.”
It might not be that easy. Many of the 16 recommendations made by the group must be approved by the King County Police Officers Guild, which has historically resisted attempts to improve officer oversight.
In 2006, the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight and King County Council passed a number of reforms for police conduct, but in contract negotiations, the union rejected them.
Strachan insists he can broker a deal this time.
“I am going to advocate for them very strongly,” Strachan said. “I do respect the role of our labor groups.”
Write it up
From 2005 to 2011, the Sheriff’s Office never interviewed police officers who fired a weapon, the report said. Instead, a deputy sheriff had three days to turn in written statement about an incident.
KCSO’s Shooting Review Board also failed to adequately investigate officer-involved shootings. All of the reports reviewed by auditors were nearly identical; each report stated that the officer was justified in firing a weapon and provided no further explanation.
In each of these cases, the decisions made by the KCSO Shooting Review Board were unanimous. The board included a chief, a captain and at least one sergeant. It can also include deputies, legal advisors and guild representatives.
Chris Moulton, one of the auditors, said some dissent would indicate the reviews were thorough: “We would like to encourage a culture in which dissenting voices are, when appropriate, encouraged.”
The process also moved too slowly, the report found.
The KCSO Shooting Review board had, according to union contract, 180 days after an incident to hold a hearing. In most cases, the hearings were not held within this time frame, auditors found.
The auditors recommend KCSO adopt a new use-of-force policy based on those used by the Austin (Texas) Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department that requires officers use force only when necessary and in proportion to the threat. They also recommend creation of a Use of Force Review Board made up of commanding officers and one civilian but no officials from the Police Officers’ Guild. Finally, they say union representatives should not be a part of the Shooting Review Board.
This is the second audit of the KCSO this year that finds multiple deficiencies in how command staff investigate and report on officer misconduct. The first was conducted by the county’s own Office of Law Enforcement Oversight.
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