The Seattle Police Department's self-policing unit, the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), has been falling behind for years. In 2006, the average investigation into allegations of police misconduct took 119 days, 29 days longer than OPA's 90-day-maximum goal. "Insufficient investigation staffing in the OPA prevents timely investigations, which in turn reduces public confidence in the OPA and [Police] Department," OPA auditor Kate Pflaumer argued last May. Last year, the Seattle City Council took action to fix the problem, allocating $120,000 to hire a seventh OPA investigator.
Back in January, however, the process got derailed. At a meeting of the council's public-safety committee, Pflaumer said police chief Gil Kerlikowske had decided not to fill the position, because "he's made some changes in the OPA to increase efficiency, and he wants to see the effect of those changes" before adding any new staff. According to acting OPA director Neil Lowe, "We've already managed to knock 20 days off" the average investigation time.
At this week's council briefings meeting, public-safety committee chair Nick Licata expressed irritation at SPD's refusal to spend the money the council gave them. Licata told me that if the police chief doesn't budget the new inspector, "there are certain things the police chief wants during the year and we may not be very receptive to responding to them. Another option might be a budget proviso [stipulating] immediately that [the $120,000] can't be spent on anything else."
Fire Station 20 on Queen Anne, a small, rundown structure whose replacement would require the demolition of three homes, is, after nearly two years of controversy, going into mediation: Council Member Richard Conlin, perhaps the biggest champion of "consensus" and "collaboration" in a city where nothing gets done without months of painstaking process, won unanimous support Monday for his proposal to hire a consultant to study alternative sites for the station. Conlin said he hoped that by the end of the year "we'll have a site that really solves the public-safety problem," preferably without tearing down the houses.
Nightlife industry representatives spent an hour last week outlining for Sally Clark's neighborhoods committee their problems with the mayor's controversial proposal to regulate nightlife. Club owners feel the ordinance is unnecessarily punitive and puts too much responsibility on clubs to police the sidewalks and parking lots outside their property. Some in the industry worry that Clark won't substantially change the mayor's proposal. Last week, however, Clark seemed extremely receptive to what nightlife representatives had to say. "One of the things I keep hearing is that Seattle doesn't have a way to deal with the one or two problem clubs that keep arising," Clark said. "Maybe we need to change some of the existing laws to make them more enforceable."