The Metropolitan King County Council on Tuesday appointed a Chicago social activist, lawyer, investigator and progressive police reformer as the new director of the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, the civilian oversight authority of the King County Sheriff’s Office.
Council Chair Claudia Balducci, in throwing her support behind Tamer Abouzeid, called him the “right person for the job at this time.” Councilmember Girmay Zahilay exclaimed he was “so excited” to see Abouzeid get the job. He is expected to begin work on Sept. 20.
“I am excited about my appointment as director of OLEO and even more excited about the direction in which the King County Council is moving when it comes to public safety,” Abouzeid said in an email shortly after the 8-1 vote. Councilmember Peter von Reichbauer opposed his appointment.
“I look forward to working with the Council, with OLEO’s amazing staff, with [the King County Sheriff’s Office], and — most of all — with the richly diverse communities that call King County home,” Abouzeid said.
He will be the third director appointed to oversee OLEO. He’ll serve as a civilian responsible for overseeing police internal investigations and accountability in the King County Sheriff’s Office, an agency in transition from an elected to appointed sheriff and buffeted recently by a string of controversial shootings and expensive settlements.
Councilmember Rod Dembowski said Abouzeid, who was one of two finalists picked from a pool of 32 applicants, did “the best job explaining the importance of bringing community standards into law enforcement.”
Abouzeid also impressed the council with his grasp of policy — and a wry wit — during a series of interviews culminating in a Zoom public hearing earlier this month, Dembowski said.
He replaces Deborah Jacobs, who was let go in September when the council, in a sharply divided vote, declined to renew her contract after an internal investigation found she had made a series of inappropriate comments to her staff. Jacobs has since claimed she was targeted and filed a $10 million claim against the county.
He edged out former Tacoma resident Eddie Aubrey, who is currently the director of the Richmond, California, police Office of Professional Accountability.
Abouzeid, who was born in Egypt, worked as an investigator at the Chicago police oversight office from 2018 to 2020 before joining the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations as a staff attorney.
He attended the University of Illinois-Chicago and Georgetown University Law School and worked as an investigator of police misconduct in Chicago.
Abouzeid also has worked as legal counsel to the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, a group that sprang out of the violence in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and police attacks on Black Panthers and other revolutionary groups. Some of his ideas reflect the ideals of those times.
“The power all belongs to the people,” Abouzeid said. “That means the people tell the police how to act, not the other way around.”
“I believe in shrinking the prison-industrial complex,” he said, and he sees police oversight as a tool to that end. This work, he said, has kept him “close to the communities” who are often underrepresented or have grievances — the people he wants to hear from in King County.
He said he would stress, above everything, community outreach and input, and transparency from both OLEO and the sheriff’s office.
“OLEO has to listen to the community, including what are the proper standards of oversight,” he said during the interview process. “Nothing will work if it doesn’t come out of the community.”
Abouzeid has said he would work to separate issues of police oversight from collective bargaining with the King County Police Officers Guild, noting that “collective bargaining agreements are very favorable to officers who engage in misconduct.”
Abouzeid also said he would support the implementation of body cameras for deputies — something both Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht and County Executive Dow Constantine have promised but have not delivered.
Voters approved a change to the county charter making the sheriff an appointed rather than elected position. The county executive will choose a new sheriff next year, with confirmation from the County Council.
Abouzeid, during the interview process, stressed he will need the backing of the County Council and a working relationship with the sheriff for any meaningful oversight or changes in policing.