June 11, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 24


Seattle’s official police watchdog to move department outside of police headquarters

By Aaron Burkhalter / Staff Reporter

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The man charged with keeping tabs on the conduct of Seattle’s cops is putting some space between himself and the officers he oversees.

Pierce Murphy, Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) internal misconduct investigator, is moving his department, the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), into a private building on Third Avenue.

The move allows the office to more effectively scrutinize SPD’s work from a distance, said OPA Deputy Director Stephanie Roth at a June 5 meeting of the Seattle City Council’s Finance and Culture Committee.

“It sends a clear message to the public that the OPA is independent and unbiased,” Roth said.

OPA is charged with investigating complaints on police misconduct. The staff of 15 conducts internal investigations and recommends any discipline. The staff includes sworn SPD officers, including a captain, a lieutenant, a sergeant and several investigators.

Critics of the OPA have noted that the director reports to the chief of police and works in the same building as the officers he is charged with investigating.

If the Seattle City Council approves the change at a meeting June 16, OPA will move to an office on the 18th floor of 720 Third Ave. It is currently run out of two separate locations, police headquarters and the Seattle Municipal Tower.

In the new building, the OPA will occupy an entire floor and have two entrance lobbies — one for civilians filing a complaint and one for officers. This way people filing complaints don’t have to run into the officers in question.

The OPA offices currently have about 5,500 square feet of space. The new office has more than 8,000.

If approved, the OPA will move into the building this summer and get the space rent-free through the end of 2014.

The owner is spending about $290,000 and the city will contribute an additional $330,000 to remodel the space for the OPA.

The city will get a discount on the rent in the first full year, paying $72,000. The second year, the rent will be about $250,000 and will increase 2.5 percent each year after. The lease will last for 10 years with two five-year renewal options.

Mayor Mike McGinn nominated Murphy to lead the OPA in 2013 following the retirement of former Director Kathryn Olson.

Seattle is undergoing police reform following a 2011 report from the Department of Justice (DOJ) that found that SPD officers have a pattern and practice of excessive force. The DOJ report also found fault with the structure of the OPA.

According to the DOJ report, the director is tasked with remaining objective about the SPD without being seen as an advocate.

“This is more easily said than done,” the report states, “particularly as the director reports to the [chief of police], sits horizontally as an equal to command staff and leads a team of sworn SPD personnel.”

Court-ordered reforms include changes to the OPA as recommended by the Community Police Commission, a 15-member panel of citizens, police accountability advocates and SPD officers and sergeants.



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