Not only have city officials begun interviewing for a new director of the Office of Professional Accountability, which is the unit that investigates claims of police officer misconduct, they've winnowed the pool down to three candidates and the mayor may appoint one of them within a month, according to sources inside city hall.
This is great news. Whoever heads the OPA winds up not only conducting rigorous reviews of citizen complaints and meting out punishment recommendations, but also—and perhaps most importantly—demonstrating publicly that officer misconduct will be punished.
I'd called last September for the city to "get rid of Kathryn Olson," who's held the job even since her last term expired in May of 2010. I said she was seen as an apologist for officer wrongdoing, she lost public trust, and the US Department of Justice had cited "concerns about the independence of the OPA Director." Despite rampant officer misconduct and a federal suit for the Seattle Police Department's excessive force, Mayor Mike McGinn hadn't filled the job—so Olson just stayed on. Two weeks later, she announced her resignation.
This is who's in the running to replace her:
Andrea Brenneke, a civil rights and employment lawyer who has a backgorund in resorative justice. She wrote this piece last year about how the SPD bridged gaps with the Native American community after an officer shot John T. Williams.
Charles Gaither is a former Los Angeles cop who now serves as director of King County's Office of Law Enforcement Oversight. In LA, he also worked for the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioner’s Office to help the force comply with that city's consent decree to reform the LAPD. You can read his bio here.
Pierce Murphy, currently the ombudsman for the City of Boise, Idaho, used to serve as the president of NACOLE (National Association for Civilian Oversight of Police). Kathryn Olson is the current president of NACOLE.
Officially speaking, the city is mum about who'll they'll pick. Aaron Pickus, the spokesman for Mayor Mike McGinn's office, says they have briefed the council on all three and "have not heard any expressions of concern." Bruce Harrell, chair of the Seattle City Council's public safety committee, didn't comment as of this morning.
Given that all the candidates look solid on paper, I hope the city picks someone who can do more than conduct meticulous investigations: I hope they pick the candidate who can also best communicate with citizens. Someone who can explain why an officer did or didn't get a punishment using language that's not impenetrable and write reports that are digestible to the common reader (OPA reports are thick with statistics that are nearly impossible for the layman to parse). But most of all, I hope they pick an OPA director who will advocate for stiffer punishments when the typical discipline—which is usually a week to a month of leave—isn't punishment enough for a bad cop.