ACLU of Washington Issues Report Calling for Independent Office for Police Accountability

June 14, 1999 12:00 am

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Monday, June 14, 1999

SEATTLE–Saying that Seattle’s system for investigating citizen complaints of police misconduct has failed, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington today issued a report calling for the creation of an independent office for police accountability.

“The current system is fatally flawed because it relies on police to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by their fellow officers,” said Kathleen Taylor, Executive Director of the ACLU of Washington. “Meaningful accountability will come about only through the establishment of an independent office for police accountability. It must be staffed by professionals who are not police officers and who have the power to investigate and to issue subpoenas.”

The report, “A Call for an Independent Office for Police Accountability,”describes how the current system of having police investigate police is not responsive to citizens with complaints and gives them no reason to trust the department. The report further explains that the current internal investigations system fosters a lack of leadership in the police department and city government that discourages citizens from making complaints of police misconduct.

The ACLU said that an independent office for police accountability should operate under the following principles:

  • Provides an Open and Trustworthy Process
  • Is Professional and Independent
  • Has Investigatory Power
  • Has a Disciplinary Role
  • Conducts Analysis and Reporting
  • Issues Policy Recommendations
  • Has Sufficient Funding

According to the ACLU, the report has been submitted to a police-review panel appointed by Mayor Paul Schell to examine how the city’s Police Department handles internal complaints against officers.

The four-member panel, headed by King County Superior Court Judge Charles Johnson, was formed last month following revelations that eight Seattle police officers, including an internal-investigations sergeant, failed to report allegations that a longtime homicide detective stole $10,000 from a crime scene two-and-a-half years ago.

The ACLU report contends that the city and Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper have ignored repeated calls for major reforms in the past 10 years, responding with only minor changes.

“The time for tweaking is over,” the 10-page report declares. “Seattle deserves a responsible, professional and independent system for evaluating complaints of police misconduct.”

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