When the Seattle City Council met last week to talk about the recent police shooting of Aaron Roberts in the Central District, Council Member Richard McIver asked one of the most pointed questions: Whatever happened to the Office for Professional Accountability (OPA)?

The City Council--McIver included--called for the establishment of the OPA two years ago. Designed to provide citizen oversight of the police, the office didn't get started until this past January, when the mayor selected Sandra (Sam) Pailca, a former King County prosecutor, as its citizen director. Since then, the OPA has received little attention. The only thing that's clear now is that no one is completely certain about the OPA's role in investigating police misconduct.

Pailca says the OPA may play an important role in the aftermath of the racially charged Roberts shooting. "The shooting has made me and [Chief Gil Kerlikowske] both say, 'Let's talk about what the proper role would be for the OPA in these situations,'" Pailca says. "The public is expecting a more active role, and that expectation needs to be addressed."

But the OPA may get cut out of the investigation entirely. When a fatal shooting at the hands of police officers occurs, the standard internal investigation procedure starts with Seattle Police Department homicide detectives, who review the shooting scene and interview witnesses. The detectives ultimately report to a Firearms Review Board, which makes a recommendation to Kerlikowske. Kerlikowske could be satisfied with the board's decision and halt all internal investigations right there. If he doesn't like what the board tells him, he can refer the matter to the OPA for further investigation. The only way the OPA may launch its own review, independent of the chief, is if a member of the Roberts family requests it.

OPA's critics don't really care. They don't think the office is going to be any more effective than the office it replaced (Internal Investigative Services, or IIS). After all, they note, OPA relies on police sergeants to investigate other police officers, just as IIS did.

Pailca, however, insists that the department turned a new, progressive corner when it created the OPA. "The public will find in the end that it's substantially different [from the police department's old internal affairs]," she says. "For the first time, there is a citizen reviewing and recommending department findings." Pailca will give a report to the city council in July on what the OPA has been doing since she joined the office last January.