Why Have Civilians Review Police Discipline If Nobody Listens to Them?

As we've written over the past two days, auditors have been calling attention to mishandled jaywalking arrests since 2002. Has anybody been paying attention? Apparently not. The auditors' repeated calls for additional police training in de-escalation techniques have gone unheeded. So what's the point of having such auditors and other civilians oversee police discipline?

In the late '90s, it seemed of utmost importance to activists that such a civilian system be created. The pushback from the Seattle Police Officers' Guild was intense. It took years of pressure from citizens and the city to establish, in 1999, a civilian-headed Office of Professional Accountability (to conduct investigations) and then a few years later a citizens' review board (to review cases handled by the OPA),the latter initially headed by now-City Attorney Pete Holmes.

The civilian auditor's position was already in existence. But the new system, which assigned to the auditor the task of reviewing ongoing cases and making recommendations to the OPA, supposedly highlighted the importance of the auditor's role. (The citizens' review board, in contrast, for the most part looked only at closed cases that had already resulted in disciplinary decisions.) The city also instructed the auditor to write regular public reports.

Yet Kate Pflaumer (pictured above), the former federal prosecutor who served as auditor from 2003 to 2009, lamented to Seattle Weekly last year that few people read her reports, even though she considered herself an "activist" auditor. She brought up jaywalking-arrests-gone-bad several times in those reports (See all auditors' reports here).

Her predecessor Terrence Carroll (newly appointed again to the post) and her successor Michael Spearman (now a state appeals court judge) also raised the issue, a fact Spearman noted in an interview today when asked about the effectiveness of the auditor position. Despite concern raised by all three, "it's still an issue," Spearman says. "Draw your own conclusions."

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