A key member of the city council's police oversight panel—the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board (OPARB)—has been asked by Council Member Tim Burgess to step down and reinterview for her position, potentially jeopardizing the city's efforts to reform Seattle's police accountability system.
Sheley Secrest—an attorney and vice president of the Seattle/King County NAACP—has been an important figure in the push for tougher police accountability. Her removal from the board could cause a major disruption at a time when Seattle's police-oversight process can't afford to be any more vulnerable. According to Secrest—who should be entitled to serve at least one more two-year term—Burgess told her she would only "have a 50-50 chance" of remaining on the board, despite her three years of experience.
James Bible, president of the Seattle/King County NAACP and a vocal advocate for accountability reform, says he's concerned Burgess's move is in response to controversy that's surrounded OPARB over the last few years. "We're concerned retribution, or perceived retribution, could have a chilling effect on the oversight process," Bible says.
Last year, following a controversial downtown drug arrest ["Raw Deal," Jonah Spangenthal-Lee, June 6, 2007], OPARB released a report claiming SPD Chief Gil Kerlikowske interfered in the department's internal investigation. Mayor Greg Nickels requested another inquiry, which ultimately cleared the chief—but OPARB's report still stands as a fierce indictment of SPD's murky accountability system.
Starting this April, there will be three vacancies on OPARB. The panel must include an attorney, an activist, and someone with experience in law enforcement.
Current OPARB chair Peter Holmes has maxed out the board's three-term limit and Brad Moericke is resigning to focus on his work as an attorney.
If Secrest stays, she would be the only remaining board member already battle-tested at sparring with the Seattle Police Officers' Guild (SPOG). In January, SPOG won a labor complaint, which stripped OPARB of its ability to review unredacted police files.
Secrest has "as good a chance as anybody" at getting on the review board, Burgess says, adding that while continuity on the board is a "value to pursue, its not necessarily required."