Dear Real Change,
Cydney Gillis’ article on the Seattle Office of Professional Accountability (“Insider Out: Police watchdog leaves complex legacy,” Jan. 24) provided some important information about an agency that gets too little media attention. But I’d like to offer Real Change readers a bit more context:
The OPA was not meant to get rid of police bias in overseeing the Seattle Police Department’s internal discipline. It was meant to provide a fig leaf of accountability to what is essentially the same old process of cops taking care of their own.
The OPA still has police officers investigate complaints against other police officers. And in my own personal OPA complaint against a police officer — who pepper-sprayed me in the face while I was lying on my back with my hands in the air — I not only had OPA investigators refuse to tell me about or share with me evidence it considered during its investigation, as Real Change noted, but also, OPA investigators, with the approval of its citizen director, Sam Pailca, actually showed that evidence to the police officer I accused of misconduct and gave him a chance to respond without giving me or any citizen witnesses a similar opportunity. In addition, during my and other civilian witnesses’ interviews, OPA investigators showed clear bias against our testimony, asked us for the names and contact information of activists we knew, and even probed my political beliefs by asking me to define anarchism and then state whether or not I was an anarchist.
The only reason I was able to get OPA investigators to interview me outside SPD headquarters, to provide me with a copy of my testimony, and to provide me with videotape of the incident in question, was because I filed a lawsuit that granted me rights I otherwise would not have had. I would not have been able to even see how biased OPA deliberations are — to the point that they will rule that department policy allows officers to commit clear civil rights violations — without that lawsuit’s discovery process providing me access to internal OPA documents. Not even the OPA Review Board has been able to get that kind of access, and it is charged with monitoring whether the OPA is even doing its job.
Sam Pailca, the OPA’s outgoing citizen director, is a sincere and generous individual. But the problems with the OPA are structural. Until the citizen director is given more power, the OPA has citizen investigators, and the organization’s decision-making is more transparent, the only redress Seattle citizens will have if they are victims of police misconduct is through the courts.
Trevor Griffey | Seattle
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For copy of actual issue, go to https://www.realchangenews.org/2007/01/31/jan-31-2007-entire-issue