On Tuesday morning, Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell paid the Public Safety Committee a visit to brief its members on the City’s ongoing search for a new Office of Police Accountability director, a position that makes sure the cops don’t break any rules, and that handles misconduct complaints when they do. But since the council does not directly decide who fills the OPA opening, public commenters asked the council to focus on the position it does have say on, the Inspector General.
The Mayor must appoint a replacement for the OPA director within 90 days of the vacancy. The Mayor was not able to pick in time, so M. Harrell came to the council requesting an exception because otherwise the council, not Mayor, would select the Director. Committee Chair Lisa Herbold said the council will approve of the timeline in a vote at its next committee meeting on March 22, transferring the power back to the Mayor.
The process is a lengthy one. According to M. Harrell, a committee will revise the job description and post it. At that point, she said a review committee composed of at least 25% Community Police Commission members, one council member, and some other community members, will have five weeks to undergo a national search to find “a special unicorn.”
By May 27, the committee will begin to interview four to six candidates and vet them on social media and through references. To loop in the rest of us, M. Harrell said the committee will make the candidates' answers to written assessment questions available to the public and, at the request of Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, the City will consider public panels as well. The Mayor ultimately aims to make recommendations to the council by June 30.
The spot at the OPA opened up when Mayor Bruce Harrell appointed its former director, Andrew Meyerberg, to work as the Director of Public Safety in January.
Meyerberg earned a reputation with police accountability advocates for his leniency with cops, especially in excessive use of force cases. More recently, Meyerberg caught criticism for his handling of the Seattle Police Department’s Proud Boys disinformation campaign, his light touch with the insurrection cops, and, just this week, the South Seattle Emerald reported on the City investigating Meyerberg for possibly violating many state laws by sharing a client’s confidential medical information.
“In the 20 years of the OPA’s existence, we have never had a fair and impartial director,” Howard Gale from Seattle STOP said during public comment. “The only failsafe for our next OPA director is an OIG director who actually does their job and is held accountable.”
The OIG oversees SPD and the OPA to help ensure “fairness and integrity,” and to keep the cops compliant with the 2012 federal Consent Decree, according to the agency’s website. Unlike the director of the OPA, the council holds the power to appoint an Inspector General, as it did in 2018 with Lisa Judge, the first and only appointment to the role.
But the Inspector General’s tenure has not been without controversy. At the end of last year, the South Seattle Emerald reported corruption within this system of checks and balances. According to Carolyn Bick’s reporting, a high-ranking OIG staffer resigned from their position as investigations supervisor and filed an ethics complaint that accused Inspector General Judge and Deputy Inspector General Amy Tsai of actively trying to silence pushback against the OPA, despite the agency’s duty to hold it to account. The council did not take action on the allegations.
In light of the allegations about the OIG trying to “appease” Myerberg, the public commenters asked the council to order an investigation of the issue, as the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission and the City’s Human Resource department have not. Should an investigation end up validating the former OIG staffer’s complaint, some commenters asked the council to replace the Inspector General so that the OIG could adequately supervise whoever the Mayor appoints to direct the OPA.
It doesn’t look like the commenters will get the council to initiate a new investigation. In an email, Herbold’s office said that the council member supports a review of the police accountability system, as recommended by the City Auditor in 2017 in the Five Recommendations for Evaluating Seattle's New Police Oversight System report.
The email from Herbold’s office also explained the City’s reaction to complaints against the OIG. While the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission declined to investigate because the complaint did not relate to enforceable provisions of the ethics code, the OIG contracted an outside investigator to look into some of the complaints about the thoroughness of OIG’s review and certification of OPA investigations.
“I will continue to support funding to implement City Auditor recommendations for how to evaluate the effectiveness of the accountability bodies and identify and address systemic issues that need correction. I am also very supportive of the OIG’s efforts, by bringing in an a nationally recognized expert on law enforcement reform and accountability systems, to review concerns about the OIG’s work to certify the thoroughness of OPA investigations. I expect that work to be done this spring,” Herbold said in an email.
For now, whoever the Mayor picks to direct the OPA will work under the watchful eye of the current OIG, with the thoroughness of its review process still under investigation.