Its name may be a mouthful and the group's future may be uncertain, but the ideas of a scrappy police oversight body known as OPARB—that's the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board—are getting some traction. Five out of the nine members of the Seattle City Council are now joining the group in urging the department to become more transparent.
Last month, the board called on the Seattle Police Department to put its database of civilian complaint and disciplinary findings online for public viewing by the end of March. An online version of the database would allow anyone to see what complaints have been filed against the department, when and where the incidents took place, demographic data about the officer against whom the complaints were filed, and what kind of discipline resulted.
"If it's really all there and accessible, then it shouldn't be an issue," OPARB co-chair John Levytsky told me, speaking of the database, "I think becoming more transparent with their data would be a huge step forward."
Staffers for three city council members—Bruce Harrell, Kshama Sawant, and Mike O'Brien—told me their offices agree with OPARB without any qualification: get the data up there by March 31, 2016.
Newly elected Council Member Lisa Herbold said she agrees, too, though she cautioned that she supports open access to accountability data to the full extent "allowed" by the city's contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild. That contract is currently being re-negotiated.
"I'm pleased as well that the specific data fields recommended by OPARB are limited in such a way to protect the privacy of complainants," Herbold said. "In addition, the open access of this information may reduce the frequency and expense of public disclosure requests."
Council Member Lorena González, who campaigned for office promising stronger police accountability, supports the OPARB recommendation, too—though she expressed concerns about the March deadline. "It's important for us to be sensitive to the complexity of gathering the suggested information and also balancing that against any applicable privacy concerns," she said.
González is the council's new chair of the Safe Communities committee, which is in charge of police oversight (it was previously called the public safety committee). She said her impression is that SPD is already working to implement some of the transparency recommendations made by the Community Police Commission—recommendations that align closely with OPARB's. But in the event that they aren't being implemented, she'll want to know why.
Tim Burgess said he wouldn't comment and over the past two weeks, the remaining council members have not told me their positions despite repeated inquiries. Office of Professional Accountability Director Pierce Murphy and the SPD have talked up their commitment to transparency but have not commented substantively on the specific recommendation from OPARB, either.
And Mayor Ed Murray? Spokesperson Viet Shelton said the narrative summaries of OPA investigations, which have been posted irregularly online for much of the past year, are sufficient on their own.
“In 2015, OPA began providing comprehensive summaries of all closed case files as its investigations were completed. Those reports are available here. They provide a narrative account of the investigation in a consistent and readable format. In addition, OPA is publishing all of their management action recommendations as well as the SPD Command responses. Together these efforts provide an unprecedented level of transparency into OPA complaints, investigations, and outcomes," Shelton said. "We believe these steps fully address OPARB’s recommendation."
That doesn't make sense to the Center for Open Policing's Phil Mocek, who has long sought SPD disciplinary records. The aggregate data would be far more useful than the closed case summaries, which each require a line-by-line reading, he said. "Maybe the mayor's office doesn't understand data analysis very well—unless they're trying to further shield SPD from exposure of what's going on inside."
More details of what information OPARB wants placed online below:
If the city of Seattle is truly serious about open and transparent policing it will provide the data fields in Appendix One for all complaint and accountability cases for mid 2014 onward no later than March 31st, 2016 on the Data.Seattle.Gov website."
Appendix 1: Data Fields to be Provided
Date- Certification of Completion 180 Day Expiration Date Summary Narrative
Number of Officers Involved Pages in Case File
Proposed OPA-IS Disposition(s) OPA Certified Disposition(s) Chief’s Finding(s)
Original Classification of Complaint Complaint Type Sustained
Complaintant Homeless Status
Years on Force
Prior Sustained Complaint Types Prior Sustained Complaint Dates
Discipline Imposed and Date
Discipline Amended on Appeal and Date Discipline Actually Implemented and Date