With U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and Mayor Mike McGinn holding dueling meetings to outline their position on police reform, another voice is entering the fray: the Office Of Professional Accountability Review Board. The what, you say? Ah, yes, that's exactly the problem.
The board briefly gained notoriety under the leadership of Pete Holmes, who engaged in a testy and televised battle with former City Attorney Tom Carr over how much the board could say about individual cases. Nothing was Carr's preference. He wanted the board to examine overall police statistics. Holmes asserted the board's right to examine closed cases, and wrote a number of stinging reports that because of his battle with the city never saw the light of day.
Carr ended up getting tossed out of office by Holmes (who ironically went on, as city attorney, to try to limit the public's access to dash-cam videos). But the former city attorney won the battle over the board's role.
The current board, now headed by a consultant named Dale Tiffany (pictured above), is mainly tasked with community outreach, it's "oversight" capabilities practically nil. From its own report:
The Review Board is prohibited from reviewing open cases and is instead forced to limit its review and oversight to only closed cases. Further, the Board is
prohibited from commenting on any specific case, regardless of its status of open
or closed, and even if the case or the officers' names are widely known through
Oversight is instead relegated to the Office of Professional Accountability (not the same as the review board), which is headed by a civilian and makes disciplinary recommendations. But it's a limited oversight since the OPA director reports to the chief. A civilian "auditor," who can review open cases, is supposed to add an additional layer of oversight.
But it's all a confusing mess, according to the board's report. So the board has issued 10 recommendations, beginning with a name change to distinguish itself from the OPA.
Other recommendations include empowering the board with "the ability to review and, as appropriate comment on any case, anytime."
What's more, the board wants the power to make its own disciplinary recommendations to the chief. If its recommendation differs with that of the OPA director, then "the chief should be required to explain his or her choices publicly in writing."
Is anybody listening to these recommendations? Who knows. As the report also points out, the tense negotiation between the city and Department of Justice is playing out behind "locked doors."