THE new civilian ombudsman of Seattle police has a refreshingly simple idea to increase public trust in the beleaguered force: air the dirty laundry.
As director of the city’s Office of Professional Accountability, Pierce Murphy is the independent investigator of citizen complaints against city police officers.
Currently, his office publishes a quarterly summary of disciplinary investigations, with terse summaries and no officers named, even when misconduct is substantiated.
Those names can be disclosed upon a Public Records Act request, but that process can be arcane for citizens, and is time consuming, for requesters and the city.
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Murphy, in an interview with The Seattle Times editorial board, suggested a more simple process. He proposes to publish on the OPA website more thorough summaries of investigative reports as soon as they’re done, including the names of officers with sustained misconduct findings.
“If the public has the right to see it, why wait for the public to ask us?” said Murphy.
There is no legal prohibition to the idea. And there are compelling reasons to do it.
Public trust is the most valuable tool a police officer carries, and assuring citizens that police power is wielded appropriately is the cornerstone of that trust.
Seattle police clearly suffer from a trust deficit. For evidence, look no further than the list of 35 leading community groups
that in 2010 asked the U.S. Department of Justice to open an investigation.
A more transparent disciplinary process is likely to anger some officers, who may feel it would erode their authority. Instead, they should see Murphy’s idea as a disinfectant against corrosive public mistrust.
Whether Seattle police see it or not, Murphy is proposing to do them, and the city, a favor.