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Seattle council, police union react to bill expanding powers of accountability groups

Seattle police during a recent protest. (Getty Images)

On Monday, Seattle councilmembers approved a bill giving explicit subpoena powers to the city’s police accountability and oversight groups. With Mayor Jenny Durkan set to sign it into law, it will next be subject to what will likely be a contentious bargaining process with Seattle’s police union.

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The measure came about after doubts were raised about the existing subpoena powers for the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), due to competing language in a 2017 ordinance. The bill passed by the council sought to provide added clarity to those powers, particularly in the realm of officer misconduct investigations.

Herbold described the legislation as a means to “increase civilian participation in OPA investigations and OIG audits and reviews,” with Council President Lorena Gonzalez pointing out that it adds “more teeth” and added transparency to the 2017 ordinance.

“When we initially considered the police accountability ordinance in 2017 we knew that there needed to be details that would need to be sorted out in order to effectuate the intent behind the subpoena power and I think that the details included in this legislation accomplish that original intent and really do implement much of what needs to be implemented,” Gonzalez said.

The change is still subject to bargaining with the police unions, and Mayor Durkan says passing this law gives the city better leverage on accountability measures during those upcoming contract talks.

That said, Seattle Police Officers Guild head Mike Solan didn’t specifically voice opposition for the measure after it was approved, he did levy criticism against the council’s general handling of police oversight.

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“We look forward to bargaining any change in working conditions with the City of Seattle,” he said in a written release Monday. “Seattle Police officers are great people and we are dedicated to serving our community even under the unfortunate nonsensical governance by our city council who don’t have Seattle’s best interest in mind.”

The measure was passed following the advice of a 2019 assessment conducted by law enforcement policy consultant 21CP Solutions. That assessment pointed to “uncertainty” surrounding the OPA and OIG’s subpoena authority, and called on the city to provide additional clarity.

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