Black and white photo depicting a 3-seater office chair in front of a brick wall with red question marks above the seats.

Reader Questions, Comments Ahead of Tonight’s OPA Dir. Candidate Forum

by Carolyn Bick

The Emerald’s Watchdragon reporting seeks to increase accountability within our city’s institutions through in-depth investigative journalism.

Despite the City bumping up the date for its public OPA director candidate forum several weeks from June 23 to today, June 8, at 6:30 p.m. with little notice to the public ahead of time, the Emerald received over the past several weeks — and yesterday, submitted — a host of questions and comments from readers in response to a public call for reader input a couple of months ago.

Though the Emerald submitted these reader questions to the City on June 7, given the original short deadline of June 7 at 12 p.m. for question submission — which has since been changed to today at 12 p.m., and readers can find the link to submit questions here — it also wanted to publish readers’ questions in case the City did not choose to use any questions the Emerald submitted from readers.

The Emerald also wanted to publish readers’ thoughts about the state of police accountability in the City of Seattle, which can be found just after the questions. At the end of this piece, the Emerald has also included information about the candidates that was not available in the mayor’s press release but is pertinent to the role of OPA director.

Reader Questions

  1. Describe what accountability and independence looks like, if you were to get the job.
  2. Describe your working experience and accountability to diverse communities.
  3. What’s your guiding vision of police accountability, in general?
  4. How should the Seattle Police Department (SPD) be reorganized in order to prevent partisan actors, such as the six officers who directly participated in the Jan. 6 attempted coup?
  5. What should accountability look like when far right groups use their associations with police officers to further their political aims?
  6. What should accountability look like when SPD takes money from far-right organizations, such as Polaris Project? Doesn’t that compromise the neutrality of the public office?
  7. Seattle’s previous OPA director, Andrew Myerberg, often cited the threat of suit by the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) as a reason why he suggested training referrals, rather than recommending concrete steps to hold SPD officers accountable when they violated department protocol. Will you stand up to the SPOG when an officer is clearly out of line?
  8. What will you do to increase the number of civilian investigators?
  9. How will you ensure police investigators do a thorough job and how will you hold them accountable when they fail? 
  10. Will you recommend officers for decertification or push for a change to allow you to recommend officers for decertification?
  11. What are the primary roles and responsibilities of a police department?
  12. By what measures can the public evaluate the effectiveness of its police department?
  13. How specifically will you ensure that People of Color, people with disabilities, unhoused people, and other marginalized groups have a voice in policing?
  14. What will you do to rout out white supremacy and white nationalism among the existing officers?
  15. How will you know you are being successful in your role? What metrics will you use?
  16. Tell us about a time you held an officer accountable, especially if you can cite an example in which you ruled against a cop against public and/or elected official opinion.
  17. What do you think the OPA could have done differently to make things right with Capitol Hill residents and protesters who were gassed and attacked in summer 2020?
  18. Do you see any value in a disciplinary matrix for officers?
  19. If the CPC or OIG had criticisms of an OPA investigation, how would you respond?
  20. What is your view on increasing the number of civilian investigators?
  21. What steps would you take to ensure that officers are actually punished for wrongdoing, rather than receiving the current standard of a slap on the wrist?
  22. Will you commit to hiring more civilian (non-sworn) investigators?
  23. What proportion of OPA investigators should be civilians?
  24. Do you view police officer testimony as more or less trustworthy than evidence documented by residents?
  25. Should OPA investigations be limited in duration. Why?
  26. Which cities or other jurisdictions would you hold up as a model of police accountability?
  27. What is the single most important thing for you to accomplish in your first 100 days in this role?
  28. What actions would you take to address victims of police violence in this role?
  29. There are incidences of investigations during which false information was given by police officers and there have been no consequences. How can the process be changed so that officers are accountable for these kinds of betrayal of the law? How is this office empowered to ensure that violations of the adjudication process are acknowledged and people are held accountable?
  30. The SPOG contract, section 3.10 C 2, states “If the employee agrees and participates in mediation, or the complainant refuses to participate after the employee has agreed to participate, the complaint will not result in discipline or a record on the employee’s complaint history.” This seems to me to say that an officer can choose mediation even if the person who was harmed does not agree, and in doing so can evade accountability. If it does, indeed, mean that, do you consider that a good policy? 
  31. What do you think are the main reasons that officers are not held accountable for their actions?
  32. In your perspective, how has the OPA failed to meet its goals? What specific changes would you make to get it closer to those goals? 
  33. How can the public have trust that you will put police accountability above all else as director? 
  34. What skills do you have in applying racial justice to your leadership and in the development of your work product? Where did you learn racial justice skills? 
  35. Tell us about a time when you had to repair a key relationship due to lack of trust. What did you do? What were the outcomes? What is the current state of the relationship?
  36. Give us an example of your proven track record of accountability to the community in previous roles. 
  37. What are your first actionable and measurable priorities re: the OPA?
  38. Why do you want in the role of OPA director? What are past ways you have built a strong team? What is your definition of public safety?
  39. What have you done to reach out directly to the community, especially the BIPOC community to build trust and communicate how you are keeping law enforcement actions transparent and accountable?
  40. What is your record and time frame in resolving investigations and who is doing the investigations?
  41. How do you measure the efficacy of police accountability measures?
  42. Have you ever worked as a public defender in criminal court, or a plaintiff’s lawyer in civil court? What is your experience challenging police narratives?
  43. What is the process to turn a corrupt organization into an accountable, transparent, and fair organization?
  44. Is it your duty to preserve police officer careers or to protect the public from abusive policing?
  45. Will you advocate publicly for greater accountability policies?
  46. What will you do to make OPA investigations more transparent for the public?
  47. What community stakeholders will you work with when developing processes for OPA?
  48. What is your understanding of the history of policing in the U.S., and how would you address that slave catcher mentality here in Seattle?
  49. Do you believe it is important for precinct personnel to belong to the community they work in, and how would you arrange things (salary, etc.) so they could afford to live where they work?
  50. Outside of your professional experience, what lived experience will you bring to this role?
  51. What is your plan/strategy to address the deep-seated “blue line” culture in SPD? The culture that was evident following the Jan. 6 Storming of the U.S. Capitol. 

What do you want the new OPA director to know about police accountability in Seattle, past, present, and future?

  1. That past attempts were derailed before they started: underfinanced, under or wrongly staffed, lack of SPD cooperation, mayoral cover-up or lack of transparency. 
  2. The OPA has existed to justify police behavior for far too long. It is time for change.
  3. During the 2020 George Floyd protests, the citizens of Seattle saw the SPD engage in truly indefensible behavior, including macing children, deploying crowd-control measures on non-violent crowds, and the intentional targeting of reporters. Mayor Durkan told us over and over that instead of complaining to her, we should file complaints with the OPA. We did that, and now, two years later, have yet to see anyone held accountable for what are some pretty egregious acts. The OPA, it seems, has largely served to justify SPD misdeeds, and you will have an uphill battle in regaining the city’s trust.
  4. We’ve never had it.
  5. In general it has sucked. It is time for Seattle policing to stop resting on the myth of Seattle liberalism.
  6. There hasn’t been any and there needs to be. 
  7. That it’s been abysmal, and a complete shift in culture and policy is going to be necessary.
  8. The OPA should focus on conducting independent, factual investigations. If there are inconsistencies or misrepresentations in officers’ statements, the OPA must be willing and able to dig into them and publish the results.
  9. 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.
  10. Police accountability is necessary if there is going to be any trust between the public and this institution.
  11. It has not existed, but it should. You cannot have accountability when most OPA investigators are police officers and OPA officials have close, personal relationships with OIG staff. Walls need to exist to preserve clear, unbiased evaluation of harm.
  12. I think the OPA has been woeful in holding SPD to account in the past, present — you have a chance to change that in the future.
  13. SPD has never faced meaningful accountability. SPD employs racists, rapists, killers and abusers and nothing is done. A new OPA director who is capable of taking accountability will face immense internal hostility. SPOG and violent officers must lie in the bed they have made by choice and take accountability. 
  14. It should be taken seriously.
  15. I would hope the people being considered would already know more that I could tell them, but a historical knowledge of specific incidents, individuals, and trends, and how they related to departmental policy at the time would seem critical to me.
  16. Clear understanding of the persistent and pervasive problems with the accountability ordinance. 
  17. A thorough understanding of the history behind the Consent Decree and why we still have it; the impact of SPOG, the impact of the lack of accountability in the past on community-police relations.
  18. Seattle’s Consent Decree that has been in place for several years, the 2020 protests and unwarranted police violence, the continued lack of transparency and accountability throughout the system, how collective bargaining stands in the way of comprehensive reform.
  19. That there is a history of excessive use of force by the SPD; that the Consent Decree holds a very, very low standard of accountability for SPD; and whether SPD is out of the Consent Decree is based only on statistics and reports submitted by SPD.
  20. Bureaucratic internal “accountability” processes in Seattle have always been a “compromise” to avoid genuine oversight and genuine change. Policies are changed, trainings are changed, and that is lauded as “progress.” The problem is that officers don’t change their behavior. The command chain doesn’t change its priorities. 
  21. There is zero consequence for officers’ repeated violations of policy and law. Officers are almost never fired, and if they are, they’re reinstated. Habitual abusers are not only retained, they’re promoted to the command chain — and given “oversight” positions with the Force Investigation Team/Force Review Board, or squad leadership, or “liaison” jobs. Police shootings get media attention and are rubber-stamped by police “investigators” with zero incentive to disrupt the pattern of abuse by their own colleagues and friends. Casual violence; bullying; retaliation; abuse; and coordinated violations of civil rights are everyday practice after 10 years of so-called accountability partnership. 
  22. This struggle has spread over decades. It took decades to get the Department of Justice investigation that led to the Consent Decree, and now it’s been a decade more of false hope. The Consent Decree court asserts jurisdiction to shut down any other avenue for true accountability — and the Consent Decree court has only the police themselves as the source of any information at all about what’s happening in our streets and our homes. The failures of the “accountability partnership” have alienated yet another generation of people who suffer under SPD lawlessness. 
  23. Your job is not just to maintain the illusion of accountability. You have a duty to truth and justice. You have a duty to respond to the lived experience of the community: the suffering, the fear, the lasting damage. If you want to do this job, and to have any legitimacy at all, any effect at all, you must seek information from outside the police department. You must get non-police investigators, locate non-police witnesses, find out what happens when body cameras are off, and orient your investigations to find facts, and to uncover abuse — not to exonerate or to maintain the careers of those who abuse their power.
  24. SPD has been entirely unaccountable for their racism and brutality.
  25. SPD has repeatedly failed the community and routinely resorts to violence.
  26. SPD has effectively gone for decades without any real accountability. It’s a tough undertaking to be the first person to actually implement any sort of comprehensive accountability program.
  27. SPOG has too much power — always has. SPD has always had a culture of secrecy and privilege (common to all police in the US), and they need to develop a more community-minded outlook. I have watched for years as officers isolate themselves in their cars more and more and don’t interact with the public. 
  28. Historically, police do not keep the city safe, at least not for everyone.
  29. Effective, objective and ETHICAL oversight will require them to be comfortable going against the grain AND — more often than not — being on the opposite side of those within the bureaucracy. Having the courage and confidence to be a “lone ranger” most days with an unwavering commitment to leveling the playing field (for community/marginalized demographics). Also ensuring this position’s ethical obligations are not swayed and/or compromised by other city executives, union leadership or … anyone else.

According to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office, which sent out a press release just after 5 p.m. on June 7 about the public forum, the finalists appearing at the forum are (LinkedIn page links added by the Emerald): Eddie Aubrey, civilian manager for the Office of Professional Accountability in Richmond, California; Gino Betts, an assistant state attorney at the Community Justice Center within the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in Chicago, Illinois; Ginale Harris, program director at the Felton Institute in San Francisco, California, and the former Oakland Police Commissioner in Oakland, California; and Valiza Nash, a supervising investigator (Special Victims) with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability in Chicago, Illinois.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Aubrey served as a prosecutor in Renton, Washington, for a little less than four years in the mid-2010s. His LinkedIn page still lists him as working as a private attorney with Aubrey Law Firm in the Greater Seattle Area. 

Betts’ LinkedIn page states that he served as an attorney for Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability for a little less than two years before serving as an adjunct professor in Chicago’s DePaul University College of Law for almost five years.

According to Harris’ LinkedIn profile, she served as an 8420 rehabilitation services coordinator at the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department. 

Nash’s LinkedIn page shows that she served as Oakwood Hill’s Chief of Police for just under four years.

Mayor Harrell’s office spokesperson Jamie Housen told the Emerald on June 7 that the virtual public forum tonight is the forum that was slated to take place on June 23. In addition to live viewing, Housen said that the forum would be recorded and available to watch after it takes place. He also said that the final chosen candidate would appear at a Seattle City Council hearing as part of the confirmation process.

The Emerald followed up to ask why the mayor’s office chose to change the date. Housen told the Emerald that “[b]ased on the timing of the process this date made more sense logistically.” The final date listed on the schedule the City published is June 30, with the item, “(1) Mayor makes nomination from three finalists (2) Notify City Council of the nomination (3) In the alternative, notify City Council that a new search will be commenced.”

Carolyn Bick is a local journalist and photographer. As the Emerald’s Watchdragon reporter, they dive deep into local issues to keep the public informed and ensure those in positions of power are held accountable for their actions. You can reach them here and can check out their work here and here.

📸 Featured Image: Photo collage based in part on a photo by Paul G used under the Unsplash license.

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