Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has nominated a longtime Boise, Idaho, official as the next civilian director of the office that investigates complaints of misconduct by Seattle police.
McGinn lauded Murphy as a national expert on police reform who has built a reputation as “calm, fair and principled.”
Boise officials said they’ll be sorry to lose Murphy, who helped found the ombudsman office to bolster outside scrutiny of police following several controversial officer-involved shootings in the 1990s.
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“I’m a little amazed he hasn’t been poached away from us sooner,” said Maryanne Jordan, president of the Boise City Council, who credited Murphy with a reduction in the number of civilian complaints against police.
During his time in Boise, Murphy investigated 18 officer-involved shootings and more than 2,400 complaints and inquiries about police, according to a news release. He also has worked as a law-enforcement officer in Menlo Park, Calif.
Murphy’s nomination is subject to confirmation by the Seattle City Council, and he’ll likely face questions over whether his history in the smaller, less diverse city of Boise has prepared him for the issues — and politics — of Seattle.
City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, one of several challengers to McGinn in the 2013 mayor’s race, will head up the confirmation process as head of the council’s public-safety committee.
Harrell questioned Murphy’s experience, saying the Seattle OPA director needs to have credibility with diverse community groups as well as the police.
“I just don’t know if being an ombudsman in Boise, Idaho, if he has that kind of experience,” Harrell said.
Boise has about 300 sworn police officers, compared with about 1,300 in Seattle.
Harrell pledged to keep an “open mind” during the confirmation, but added there were local candidates who were qualified and familiar with the city. “I’m never convinced we have to go out of state to find talent,” he said.
Perhaps sensitive to such concerns, McGinn said he was tapping one of the other finalists for the OPA job, local civil-rights attorney Andrea Brenneke, as a consultant to work with the city on as yet unnamed projects to improve police-community relations.
Brenneke was one of the attorneys who represented the family of John T. Williams, a man killed by a Seattle police officer in 2010 in a controversial shooting that was ruled unjustified by a department review.
Murphy drew praise from some other Seattle officials who have been critical of the Seattle Police Department and its responses to a Justice Department report that found officers resorting too often to excessive force.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes called Murphy “terrific” in a statement through a spokeswoman, saying he’d known the Boise leader for a decade through their involvement in the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.
In a statement through McGinn’s office, Merrick Bobb, the court-appointed monitor overseeing the Police Department’s implementation of a Justice Department consent decree, also said he’s known Murphy for years and praised his “independence and strong moral center.”
Murphy would replace Kathryn Olson, who announced in October she was stepping down as OPA director amid criticism and questions over whether she had City Council support to be reappointed for a third, three-year term.
At Friday’s news conference, Murphy said his first task if confirmed by the City Council would be to get to know Seattle’s communities and Police Department before launching any major initiatives.
“What I need to do first and really foremost is a lot of very intense listening,” he said.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @Jim_Brunner.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Mike Carter contributed
to this report.