Audit from police watchdog warns of ‘gaps in the discipline system’ for Seattle officers

Dec 1, 2021, 8:06 AM | Updated: 11:13 am
Seattle police protest...
Seattle police at protest in 2020. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

An audit of the Seattle Police Department’s disciplinary system lead to nearly a dozen recommendations for improvements by the city’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).

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The audit focused on disciplinary processes over a three-year period starting in 2018, beginning with initial findings from the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) to the ultimate discipline handed-down by the police chief, as well as any resolutions on appeal.

While the OIG did not find conditions it would deem harmful to accountability or public trust — such as a pattern of arbitrators overturning discipline or chronic failure to address repeated misconduct — it did find room for improvement, citing “gaps in the discipline system.” That includes the need for improved communication on case updates, and having suspensions served in a more timely manner to ensure officers feel the intended financial impacts when disciplined.

It also found that “a significant number” of disciplinary actions against officers were not properly documented, “potentially impacting public records requests and employment checks.”

In total, the OIG issued 11 recommendations. Among them was a call to consider reworking how the OPA classifies officer misconduct. Under the existing system, the OPA “does not define misconduct” in its manual, providing only “limited examples of behaviors that are not misconduct.”

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“These guidelines lack clarity and provide the OPA Director a high degree of flexibility in determining what constitutes misconduct and therefore what violations are or are not recommended as a Sustained finding,” the OIG’s audit reads.

The OPA is also limited in its ability to address “minor, proven violations of policy,” with a “training referral” operating as the only option for discipline in a majority of those cases.

You can read the full report from the OIG at this link.

MyNorthwest reporter Nick Bowman contributed to this story.

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Audit from police watchdog warns of ‘gaps in the discipline system’ for Seattle officers