Voters should pass Charter Amendment No. 1 to strengthen civilian oversight of the King County Sheriff’s Office.

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CITIZEN oversight can be an important counterbalance to keep law enforcement in check, but only if such endeavors are independent and have powers to investigate wrongdoing.

In King County, the civilian-led Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) has been aptly described as a toothless tiger pushing paper.

Voters should vote for King County Charter Amendment No. 1, a measure on the Nov. 3 ballot that would elevate the role of OLEO and a citizen’s advisory committee, and protect their work from the whims of politicians.

The charter amendment is needed to clarify these roles and eliminate the chance of political mischief. OLEO has not been able to function as intended when a blue-ribbon committee recommended creation of such an office dedicated to independent oversight in 2006.

That panel formed after news reports detailing a pattern of employee misconduct and uneven disciplinary measures within the Sheriff’s Office. But a legal battle ensued and many of OLEO’s basic functions were gutted during labor negotiations with the King County Police Officers’ Guild. The effect is that OLEO serves mostly as an observer role. A county audit last summer confirmed numerous weaknesses.

The charter amendment’s approval would restore OLEO’s authority to review internal investigations and disciplinary actions taken by the Sheriff’s Office. The oversight agency would be allowed to fully access files and conduct its own analyses of serious complaints against officers, including situations where use of force is in question.

Sheriff John Urquhart has earned broad respect for cracking down on deputies with problems, but there’s no guarantee his successor will do the same.

Though he supports robust citizen oversight, Urquhart warns that any charter amendments would still be subject to negotiations with the guild.

The political climate has changed in recent years and citizens crave more transparency and accountability than ever.”

Fair enough, but the political climate has changed in recent years and citizens crave more transparency and accountability than ever. The Seattle Police Department is under the watchful eye of the federal government for using excessive force.

Voters should approve Charter Amendment No. 1.