One is a former California police officer, King County prosecutor and judge whose “transformational education” in institutional racism and injustice led him to work in police oversight; the other is a Chicago social activist, lawyer, investigator and progressive who believes that only the community can transform policing.
Both are finalists for the job as director of the King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO), 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 by a string of controversial shootings and expensive settlements.
Eddie Aubrey, a former Tacoma and Seattle resident who currently directs the civilian-run Richmond, California, police Office of Professional Accountability, and Tamer Abouzeid, who joined CAIR-Chicago in 2018 after leaving the Chicago Civilian Office of Police Accountability, both emphasized they would stress transparency and public outreach if they win the job.
The finalists — chosen from 32 applicants by a search committee — appeared during a pair of public question and comment sessions, conducted via Zoom, on Tuesday and Wednesday. The hearings were recorded and can be viewed on the Metropolitan King County Council’s site.
The council is expected to make its choice following final interviews with the candidates, scheduled for July 20.
Aubrey, who is of African-American and Korean descent, told the participants that he recognized racism and discrimination at all levels of the criminal justice system, and believes transforming police is key to any solution. And the key to transforming the police is having the will and support to implement changes brought about by oversight.
“OLEO needs a leader with demonstrated experience,” he said Wednesday. “I have walked the walk, walked the talk” and delivered results in Richmond and Fresno, California, where he worked in the Office of Independent Review and wrangled with city officials over accountability, according to news reports from the time.
Aubrey also served as the chief criminal prosecutor for the city of Renton before moving to California.
“I have a lifelong dedication to my work,” he said.
Abouzeid, who was born in Egypt, attended the University of Illinois-Chicago and Georgetown University Law School, and worked as an investigator of police misconduct in Chicago, a city with a reputation of racist and violent policing.
“It is a grueling, taxing, enraging and enlightening job,” he said. “And very necessary.”
He said he would stress, above everything, community outreach and input, and transparency for the office.
“The power all belongs to the people,” said Abouzeid. “That means the police tell the people how to act, not the other way around.
“OLEO has to listen to the community, including what are the proper standards of oversight,” he said. “Nothing will work if it doesn’t come out of the community,” he said.
Both job candidates stressed they have to have the backing of the County Council and a working relationship with the sheriff — elected or appointed — for any meaningful oversight or changes in policing. 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.
Both also said they would try to separate police oversight from collective bargaining. “There are things in the current contract that handcuff OLEO,” Abouzeid said. “Collective bargaining agreements are very favorable to officers who engage in misconduct.
“That needs to be fixed,” he said.
Aubrey was succinct: “OLEO should not be part of the collective bargaining agreement. Oversight should never be bargained. You don’t do that with surgeons or lawyers. Why police? I believe in accountability.”
“This may be the most important work I’ve done,” he said.
Abouzeid is 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 the police attacks on Black Panthers and other revolutionary groups. Some of his ideas reflect the ideals of those times.
“I believe in shrinking the prison-industrial complex,” he said, and 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 promised a “holistic” and “proactive” approach to the job that would require transparency both from the Sheriff’s Office and OLEO. “We would expect it from the sheriff’s office so we can explain it to the public,” he said.
Abouzeid said he would support the implementation of body cameras on deputies — something both Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht and County Executive Dow Constantine have promised but have not delivered. Abouzeid’s only caveat would be that the county pay for them without taking money from the Sheriff’s Office.
Both men said they would need the support of the King County Council to succeed.
“A police oversight office needs power,” said Abouzeid. “At the very least, the political will to back up the office.”
The past OLEO director, Deborah Jacobs, 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 has since filed a $10 million claim against the county.
Aubrey worked for 15 years as a police officer in Santa Monica, California, and Los Angeles — including finding himself on the streets during the Rodney King riots. He said that experience helped him recognize “an infrastructure that led to the discrimination of some people.”
He left law enforcement, returned to Washington, went to law school and became a prosecutor in King County and Renton, and served as a director and risk manager at Tacoma Community College.
“What I found was a system that harmed people like me, again,” he said. That’s when he decided to pursue a career in law enforcement oversight.
King County, he said, “deserves meaningful and progressive accountability” and Aubrey — a longtime member of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement — said he “knows what works and what doesn’t.”
“My transformative education and expertise has translated to real change in oversight,” he said.
The most important ingredient, he said, is “implementation.” The OLEO director must have unfettered access to the Sheriff’s Office and its data, which in turn it can analyze and share with the public in “real time.”
If the sheriff and OLEO director share the same “mission, goal and vision” of policing, then issues such as labor contracts and other impediments to reform can be overcome, he said.