Pierce Murphy, who was appointed director of the Seattle Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability in 2013, was seen as boosting public trust in the department’s internal investigations and discipline during his tenure.
Pierce Murphy, who oversaw Seattle police internal investigations as the civilian director of the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), plans to leave the post to work full time in his church.
“This is the right time,” said Murphy, 63, a deacon in the Catholic Church who will have a role in the Archdiocese of Seattle.
Murphy, who was appointed OPA director in 2013 after holding a similar post in Boise, Idaho, was seen as boosting public trust in the Police Department’s internal investigations and discipline during his tenure.
But he was not reappointed to a second three-year term last July by Mayor Ed Murray as the city moved to revamp its police-accountability structure.
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He was asked to remain as interim director and told he could reapply for the job when the new plan was in place. The City Council’s public-safety committee passed the legislation Thursday, which is subject to a full council vote Monday and approval by a federal judge overseeing court-ordered police reforms to address excessive force and biased policing.
The mayor’s action raised eyebrows because Murphy had repeatedly drawn the ire of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild over his disciplinary recommendations.
The mayor, at the time, dismissed any tie between Murphy’s status and his relationship with the guild, expressing full confidence in Murphy. Instead, the mayor insisted, he had simply found himself caught in “limbo land” in light of the pending changes.
Murphy, who plans to leave in July, said he considered his options after the mayor’s “fairly unambiguous” message about his future. He informed the mayor of his decision to leave Tuesday and told his staff Wednesday.
In an interview shortly after he was not reappointed, Murphy said he believed he would be given a new term because of his achievements.
Most notable, he said, has been his work to establish the OPA’s independence, overcoming negative public perceptions of the office, ranging from it being a “rubber stamp” to being “co-opted” by police management.
To build public trust, Murphy set up a stand-alone, walk-in office in a downtown business building, away from police headquarters. OPA took control of its website, shifting it away from the department, and began posting real-time reports on case outcomes.
Murphy also quickly redefined a key aspect of the job, in which he made direct recommendations to the police chief regarding his findings. Previously, OPA’s captain suggested a finding, with the director weighing in later, subject to influence from police management and sometimes after the fact.
In the interview, Murphy said he viewed the guild’s antipathy as an endorsement of his efforts, saying good cops had told him they were grateful that bad cops are finally being held responsible.
He noted that in 2015, 11 of 123 use-force complaints against Seattle officers were upheld, compared with two out of 125 in 2012, the last full year before he arrived, and in 2011, one of 121.
“You could say, ‘Oh my goodness, the police are more brutal,’ ” Murphy said. “Or you could say, ‘Finally someone’s asking tough questions and holding them accountable.’ ”