Real Change and the South Seattle Emerald know that many of our readers support Mayor Bruce Harrell, have high expectations for him in general — particularly regarding public safety — and want to see him succeed. They hope he will make real progress on public accountability and reducing the harm caused by the Seattle Police Department to poor, unhoused and BIPOC communities. We also understand our responsibility to our readers and the democratic process to hold the mayor, all police forces, police oversight entities and officials in the region accountable through fair, accurate and unrelenting reporting.
Real Change and the South Seattle Emerald write this letter to express our concern about the low priority given to community participation in the Seattle Office of Police Accountability (OPA) director hiring search. As news outlets covering the new OPA director hire, police accountability and community safety, we take exception to the opaque process. While news outlets should always eye the government with skepticism, the lack of transparency makes it more difficult for us to inform our readers and the larger public so that community members can effectively advocate for their interests.
With all the above in mind and now that the mayor has nominated a candidate for the role, we call on Mayor Harrell to assure his constituents that he works diligently to build community trust by ensuring police accountability and transparency.
In March, the Seattle Mayor’s Office launched a process to hire a new OPA director. The director will oversee an agency that has evoked criticism from members of the public who question precisely how it holds police accountable and speculate whether the agency is in place to act as cover for police misconduct. Our readers have expressed suspicion of the police and the OPA.
Unfortunately, the administration aggravated distrust by, without notice, moving up the public forum to vet potential OPA directors by two weeks, from June 23 to June 8. Further, the Mayor’s Office did not distribute a press release informing the public or extend the period for public comment until after South Seattle Emerald and Real Change reporters inquired about the change and lack of public outreach. Despite the last-minute change, community members submitted more than 150 questions to the city for the forum.
When the Emerald asked the public what they wanted to know about the prospective candidates and what they wanted those candidates to know about police accountability in Seattle, community members did not mince words.
“The OPA has existed to justify police behavior for far too long. It is time for change,” one wrote.
“The current OPA process appears to the outside observer to be more concerned with projecting the appearance of an accountability process, rather than actually holding officers accountable when they violate policy or break the law. OPA reports frequently omit publicly available information that directly contradicts officers’ statements, which leads to the public having very little trust in the OPA,” said another.
You can read a complete list of questions and community statements submitted to the Emerald in this June 8 South Seattle Emerald article.
Several recent examples illustrate why there is so much cynicism. For many months of 2020, complaints forwarded to OPA were closed without consequence, even though they contained video of demonstrations clearly showing civilian confrontations with police that ended in arrest and injury.
The Emerald revealed several allegations of misconduct levied at the previous head of OPA, Andrew Myerberg, including his decision to broadcast medical information about a person arrested during the 2020 protests, a claim under investigation by an outside organization, Seyfarth Shaw. Myerberg left his OPA position to join the Harrell administration as Seattle City Director of Public Safety. Moving Myerberg to this role contributes to distrust. Many police accountability advocates frequently criticized Myerberg’s job performance. Further, an Office of Inspector General auditor voiced concern about the message the release of the private information cited above sends to the community and that people “...may now be reluctant to make complaints of their own.”
The Emerald also uncovered that Seattle’s former chief of police, Carmen Best, had foreknowledge of the decision to abandon the East Precinct. Axios reported that Best deleted text messages from that time that likely should have been preserved under open records laws. Also missing are records from former Mayor Jenny Durkan, Fire Chief Harold Scoggins and other officials.
Despite these violations from elected and appointed officials, the public has seen no accountability.
The people choose elected officials to serve the public interest in a transparent and ethical manner. That is our expectation because that is the government's responsibility in a democracy. As news organizations, we rely on consistent, accurate and timely information from governmental bodies, which we share with our constituencies as a critical service. Our readers expect us to monitor the government and others in powerful positions to provide accurate and timely information in a manner that helps community members make decisions in their best interests.
Like our readers, for the above-stated reasons and a long history of police misconduct with impunity, we greatly doubt that without community engagement and pressure the current city administration can make the necessary changes needed in police accountability that ends law enforcement misconduct. As news organizations accountable to our community, we must ask how the administration expects constituents to engage in critical conversations about police accountability and community safety with unassessable and incomplete information from our electees?
We call on city and county officials to ensure police accountability and transparency and to work diligently to build and repair community trust. With democracy under attack across the nation, let’s work to get it right here in Seattle and all of King County.
Below is a list of organizations and government agencies for community members to contact, join and hold accountable in advocating for effective community safety and police accountability.
Mothers for Police Accountability
People Power Washington (coordinated by ACLU WA)
Seattle Group for Police Accountability
Washington Coalition for Police Accountability
Seattle Office of Police Accountability
Seattle Community Police Commission
Seattle City Council Public Safety & Human Services Committee
Seattle Police Monitor
King County Council Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee
King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight
King County Community Advisory Committee for Law Enforcement Oversight (CACLEO
UPDATE: This letter has been updated on July 26, 2022 to reflect additional community partners.
Read more of the July 27-Aug. 2, 2022 issue.