Among the police-reform initiatives suggested to the mayor, police chief, and police unions by City Council member Tim Burgess' public-safety committee last week was one that is the most needed, does not go far enough, yet is almost certain not to succeed: publicly naming officers who have been disciplined by the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA). The cops, who happily allow their names to be published when they receive a commendation, have long fought to prevent disclosure when they get in trouble with the internal police, and consider the council suggestion DOA. But here is how Burgess and fellow committee members Sally Clark and Sally Bagshaw suggest it ought to be:
To increase transparency and public trust, the Police Department should include in its monthly OPA reports for each sustained misconduct finding: a summary of the misconduct, the nature of the discipline, and identification of the public employee who received the discipline.
The committee points out that OPA's civilian auditor has also recommended including more details in the monthly reports. As it stands, disciplinary disclosures are useless to anyone trying to determine what exactly happened.
On OPA's web site, the monthly listing of complaints against officers are generalized, site-unspecific, dateless capsules ranging from allegations of rudeness to brutality. Ironically, though officers' names are not included, the capsules usually use the term "named officer" to describe the cop. His or her name thus is known to the department, but not the public.
Perhaps most important in this secretive process, the department asks that it be trusted to handle complaints fairly when, as the OPA list covering November--the latest available--shows such complaints are rarely sustained. "Not sustained," "Unfounded," and "Exonerated" are the commonplace findings. They might in fact be the correct findings. But you'll have to take SPD's word for it.
Most cops are good at what they do, and (the department's) records show 85 percent never have a complaint filed against them. As Burgess wrote in his letter to the chief, mayor, and unions, "We believe these valued officers and detectives will embrace these enhancements of accountability and effectiveness. They know that when communities trust them as legitimate guardians of public safety, their work on the street gets easier and safer."
A nice thought, anyway.