The Seattle Mayor’s Office held a public forum June 8 with four finalists for the position of Office of Police Accountability (OPA) director. OPA is an independent office within the Seattle Police Department (SPD) meant to investigate allegations of police misconduct.
However, the process began with immediate criticism when the public discovered that the Mayor’s Office had, with no public notice, moved the date of the forum up two weeks earlier than originally advertised.
The position — which has been vacant since former director Andrew Myerberg joined Mayor Bruce Harrell’s administration in January — has the unenviable responsibility of trying to hold Seattle police officers accountable in a system that affords cops a profound level of impunity and legal protections.
The four finalists for the position are Ginale Harris, a former Oakland police commissioner; Eddie Aubrey, the director of the Office of Professional Accountability in Richmond, Virginia; Valiza Nash, a supervising investigator for Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability; and Gino Betts, an assistant state’s attorney with Cook County, Illinois.
While Harrell had initially pledged to hold a transparent hiring process with a public forum held on June 23, the Mayor’s Office quietly moved up the schedule by two weeks. Public outreach did not match the schedule change, and the public was largely in the dark until Councilmember Lisa Herbold posted about the forum at the bottom of her blog, dated June 4 — just four days before the forum.
Herbold wrote on Twitter that the information about the forum was only relayed to her late on June 3 and that she was “not aware that the meeting details had not and would not be posted elsewhere.”
Only after journalists and other members of the public found out about the forum the day before and tweeted about it did the Mayor’s Office finally disseminate information about the forum. Just after 5 p.m. on June 7, the office sent out a news release about the forum and extended the deadline for community members to submit questions for the candidates.
The forum itself proceeded uneventfully with a well-produced and stage-managed show on the Seattle Channel, the city’s publicly run TV channel. According to host and producer Brian Callanan, the city received more than 150 questions from the community despite the limited public outreach, six of which he asked each of the candidates.
The finalists emphasized different priorities if they were selected for the position. Harris said her motto was “truth over peace” and stressed the importance of eliminating the “police bill of rights,” a set of federal, state and local laws and collective bargaining agreements, which shield cops from legal consequences for misconduct in many cases.
Aubrey said that he resonated with Harrell’s idea of “One Seattle” and wanted to integrate the three accountability agencies — the Office of the Inspector General, Community Police Commission and OPA — to create a unified response to addressing public safety issues.
According to Nash, in order for the OPA to work successfully, officers need to believe that the investigations are a fair process, even if they don’t like it.
“I think we can recognize officers who are egregiously committing misconduct, but officers are human beings. They make mistakes, but they also have to be held accountable,” she said.
During the forum, Betts said that one of the key obstacles to police accountability was that police unions completely undermine necessary legislation.
“Police accountability should not be negotiated in a labor negotiation agreement,” he said.
The Mayor’s Office will be collecting feedback from the public about the OPA director hiring process through June 15. Harrell is expected to nominate one of the four finalists, who will then go to the City Council, which has the final say over whether to hire them.
Harrell’s lack of public engagement and obfuscation around the public forum could cloud the hiring process, evoking more distrust from community members who are already frustrated with the lack of accountability shown by Seattle police officers.
Read more of the Jun 15-21, 2022 issue.