The deadline has been extended: People interesting in joining the Seattle Police Department Office of Professional Accountability Review Board (the three-member panel charged with auditing the cops' internal investigations) have another two weeks to turn in resumés. It's a good thing the Seattle City Council pushed back the due date--since the positions opened in early January, the council has only seen half as many applicants as they hoped for, a testament to the fact that few know what the job entails.

The city council isn't sure what to tell applicants about time commitments, compensation, or the amount of work involved. And the three people eventually chosen for the job will be learning as they go.

The indistinct job description is only one of the latest OPA-related issues that highlights Seattle's struggle to implement or even define police accountability. There are several others: First, the OPA published a complaint report last month--a move the mayor supports--causing the Seattle Police Officer's Guild (SPOG) to start a vote of no-confidence in Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske. Second, the ACLU released a report, which the city council all but dismissed, calling for stronger police review by giving the board more power. And third, the SPOG contract is up for negotiation this year, with some saying it's an opportunity to bargain for stronger accountability.

OPA Investigations

On January 18, OPA director Sam Pailca put a 16-page public report on the department's website last month, outlining a sustained complaint investigation.

The report details a July 9, 2001 incident: Officer Jesse Pitts stopped a group of Asian American students in the International District for jaywalking, and the students countered with a complaint, alleging they were stopped because of their race.

Though the report did not name Pitts, the SPOG was upset at its publication--they started a vote of no-confidence in Kerlikowske on February 7. Guild officials have not commented publicly, but one officer called the report's publication "demoralizing as hell" in the daily papers.

Pailca defended the decision, saying it wasn't political.

"The chief and I made the determination [to publish it] early on, no matter what the decision was," Pailca says.

ACLU Report

Meanwhile, the ACLU would like to see more than published final reports, and they say the city council should give the OPA more power. On January 31, the ACLU recommended 20 ways to strengthen the office, mainly by shoring up the review board. For example, the board could request further investigation, see complete investigation files, and hear appeals from people dissatisfied with OPA findings.

"We feel that in recent years the city has conceded many decisions to the guild," says the ACLU's Hampton. "And [the guild] continues to exert influence on what's happening in terms of the development of the OPA."

City Council Member Jim Compton expressed frustration at the ACLU report.

Compton says the city council can't simply strengthen the OPA--almost every step has to be negotiated with the SPOG in a lengthy and arduous process. While the council doesn't have total control when bargaining with the guild, he said, they are doing their best to further police accountability.

New Negotiations

The ACLU and the Seattle Human Rights Commission say the city council has another shot to increase police accountability this spring, when the city and the guild start negotiating a new contract. When the last contract was negotiated, in early 2000, police wanted more money and the city wanted greater accountability. What resulted was a compromise for both sides--the city saved some money on cop cost-of-living adjustments, and got a fledgling OPA with several kinks to work out.

"We have bargained away our accountability for money," says Seattle Human Rights Commissioner Tony Granillo. But this time around, he says, the city needs to hold firm on accountability issues that would give the review board more power of citizen oversight.

Though Pailca doesn't want to get involved in the politics between the guild and the city, she'd also like to see the OPA have a stronger influence. For her, that means making recommendations on department policy.

Support The Stranger