Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn Monday appointed former Judge Anne Levinson as the next civilian auditor for the Seattle Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability, which reviews alleged police misconduct. Retired Judge Terrence Carroll has been filling in as interim auditor since May after Judge Michael Spearman resigned from the position to join the State Court of Appeals.
Subject to City Council confirmation, Levinson will serve the rest of Spearman’s unexpired term, which runs until June 2012. Although the SPD uses the traditional model of officers investigating other officers, it has a civilian review board, a civilian auditor, and a civilian director—Kathryn Olson—who is up for reappointment this year.
“The fact that we did not have a full-time position for the last few months did not stop us from doing our job," Olson says, "but it’s a good thing the position has been filled.”
Levinson says that she will focus on accountability and transparency and rebuilding trust with local communities. Levinson’s appointment comes as the Seattle Police Department is facing a lot of criticism for its handling of controversial incidents. A Seattle police officer was recently videotaped punching a young girl during a jaywalking altercation outside a high school which sparked a series of reviews and investigations. Another officer was caught on camera in April for kicking and stomping a Latino man and threatening to beat the “fucking Mexican piss out of” him. Olson says she cannot comment on the two specific incidents because they were both under investigation by the OPA. Levinson says that although Seattle police have enjoyed a strong relationship with different communities in the city, "the recent incidents have shown how fragile that relationship can be." "A critical priority will be looking at alternatives that can be helpful in solving problems—such as the use of mediation when longer processes don't work." Levinson says. "Seattle has used it to some extent but could do more."
The OPA civilian auditor’s position took on a much stronger role after the Police Accountability Review Board called for 29 changes to the Seattle police accountability system in 2008. The auditor serves a three-year term and can be reappointed to two subsequent three-year terms by the mayor. The mayor usually seeks out candidates who have a strong background in the judicial system. Levinson says she was aware that the mayor was considering her for the position. "We are very lucky to have her—she has great experience on a wide variety of issues, both criminal and civil, and knows the system," says Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes, who formerly chaired the OPA review board. "She's exactly the kind of person I would like working on police investigations." The OPA auditor casts the first civilian eye on an investigation, even before the director or the review board.
A Seattle Municipal Court judge from 1999 to 2001 where she dealt with criminal cases, Levinson developed and presided over one of the country’s first mental health courts. She served as chief of staff and then deputy mayor for Mayor Rice and was legal counsel in both the Rice and Royer administrations. Levinson also chaired the Washington Utilities & Transportation Commission—a quasi-judicial body that regulated private telecommunications and energy companies. She is one of the four owners of the Seattle Storm. Levinson was also part of the Seattle Police Chief Search Committee. "It's important that the chief fosters an environment that actively investigates misconducts and implements reforms when necessary so that the public has respect and confidence in the police," she says. 'We have a mutual goal here of treating all citizens equally." Levinson underscores the importance of encouraging community policing in Seattle. "It's also important to have early warning systems to identify potential problems," she says.
Levinson "has certainly got a very well respected background and I look forward to working with her,” Olson says. Olson adds she was aware that Levinson was being considered for the position. Calls to the Mayor’s Office for comment were not returned immediately.