In theory, Seattle's new Office of Professional Accountability could function as a check upon the worst of the ravages of the Seattle Police Department. But it isn't likely. It is far more realistic to write off the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) as a cruel hoax, doomed from the start by a department, mayor, and City Council more interested in deflecting public criticism than in actual accountability for public employees with guns.
The grim one-and-a-half-year process of creating the OPA was capped last month by Mayor Schell's appointment to the directorship of Sandra Pailca, a former King County deputy prosecutor. The rather limited purpose of the OPA is to review—without any power to investigate or subpoena witnesses—internal investigations already conducted by the Seattle Police Department.
As deputy prosecutor, Pailca made her living working to convince judges that, when apprehending and charging a defendant, the police were right and that, on the stand, police witnesses were truthful. This is the most impartial person Schell could find to assess internal police investigations?
Pailca was one of three finalists interviewed for the post. The other two also had past or current military or law enforcement ties [see Impolitics, 10/26/00]. What part of "civilian" did Schell's new police chief, Gil Kerlikowske, not understand? Where was the evidence that any of these finalists would be inclined to give a fair hearing to witnesses who allege police malfeasance?
To ensure community involvement, Schell then announced that he was seeking "citizen input" from seven additional "special advisors" who would help interview the finalists. They included City Council member Jim Compton, who in his year heading the council's Public Safety Committee has been a relentless cop booster; Terry Carroll, the former deputy prosecutor and judge whose work as SPD's internal investigations auditor precipitated this PR crisis in the first place; a former head of the Seattle FBI office; and a University of Washington professor who chaired the search committee for a new police chief. The conspicuous absence of any actual independent community members—let alone any of the cops' numerous public critics, whose pressure helped lead to the OPA's creation—tells you all you need to know about the city's intent for this office.
Ironically, only a week after the OPA selection, a jury cleared defendants in a wrongful death suit brought by the family of Michael Ealy, a black man who died in police custody in 1998. The jury decided that the police officers involved enjoyed qualified immunity, shielding them from liability in Ealy's death. A previous inquest had (as is always the case) cleared the police of wrongdoing, and the Ealy family is left—with all of the other survivors of police violence—wondering exactly how justice can be served when the police are impugned.
It won't be through the OPA. While better than in days of old, the ingrained mentality of a city and police department that sees itself as above the law and immune to public outrage still perseveres. The impulse to whitewash police accountability issues also remains.
From the follow-up file
*Microradio has received the death sentence. Only the president can grant it clemency and that isn't going to happen.
Low-power FM or microradio, the revolutionary new community radio resource, was legalized by the Federal Communications Commission over the objections of the big commercial stations and, ironically, the big "public" stations of National Public Radio. In the last lame-duck days of 2000's Congress, the big stations' political allies passed the Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000, which now awaits an almost certain White House signature. The bill strips away about 80 percent of possible microradio licenses (generally the ones in larger cities) and mandates further testing before proceeding with the rest.
With the new regime, Republicans will also seize control of the FCC, and present commissioner Michael Powell (Colin's son) will probably become chairman; possibly, the Republicans will kill what's left of low-power FM and spur yet another round of "illegal" pirate radio. As will often be the case under Dubya, the industry will tell its regulators what to do.
*Remember John Hoff? He's the former Seattle loose cannon [see "Leaving Las Seattle," SW, 8/14/00] who was improbably elected as a "Green Libertarian" to the city council in Grand Forks, N.D., last summer. After less than a month in office, he inspired a recall effort. A few weeks ago, Hoff was narrowly defeated in a recall election. Now the irrepressible Hoff—this is symptomatic of why he got booted—has started up a Web site (www.creativechaoscommunity.tourguide.net) devoted to getting like-minded activists to buy up foreclosed North Dakota farmland for "pennies on the dollar."
*And remember Luna? She (it must be a "she," of course) is the giant redwood popularized by her former occupant, Julia "Butterfly" Hill.
One year ago after ending her remarkable two-plus years of tree sitting in Humboldt County, Calif., Hill paid Pacific Lumber $50,000 for Luna's eternal protection and became an instant, if minor, eco-celebrity [Impolitics, 1/6/00]. Well, you can protect a tree only so well. A few weeks ago some asshole with a chain saw and the knowledge of how to fell big trees cut two-thirds of the way through Luna, virtually ensuring her death. The perpetrator surely considered this vile act some sort of retribution against the relentlessly woo-woo Hill, but ironically, the resulting horror and outpouring of public sympathy in Northern California was a political and fund-raising boon for Hill's Circle of Life Foundation.
The tree itself was probably already doomed by the hordes of support teams, celebrity poseurs, media crews, and most recently eco-tourists that had been ripping up the unprotected grounds around her for three years now.