The long holiday weekend was marked by uncertainty for Seattle’s police oversight officials. On Friday, Mayor Ed Murray issued a statement saying the city will be seeking new candidates to lead oversight of the Seattle Police Department. He thanked the city’s two lead officials “for their service.”
These officials say the turmoil shows precisely why their jobs need to be protected from political influence.
Murphy: “I’m not a quitter. I don’t walk away from a challenge. But I want to make sure I’m going to have a fair chance to see the reforms through.”
That’s Pierce Murphy, the civilian director of Seattle’s Office of Professional Accountability. His office investigates complaints about police misconduct. And he’s brought some changes to that job – he moved his offices out of police headquarters to make it easier for the public to file complaints, and he publishes the results of his investigations more quickly than in the past.
But an abrupt statement from the mayor last Friday made it appear that Murphy was on his way out. Murphy says that’s not what the mayor told him that day.
Murphy: “He told me directly that I have his support for this work and I take him at his word.”
The mayor’s office issued a clarification Saturday saying reports that Murphy was being “shown the door” were false and urged him to reapply. Murphy says the real issue he’s facing is the hostility of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, which called the mayor’s statement “good news.”
Murphy: "For some reason the union seems to blame me for the fact that the chief is holding officers accountable. I would say I’m not surprised by that, but I’d say to the union perhaps they should look inward and stop justifying the misconduct of some of their members.”
He says he will only seek another term if he can continue the reforms launched by the city’s settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department.
Murphy along with former Judge Anne Levinson, the agency’s independent auditor, and the Community Police Commission have been seeking legislation to insulate police oversight from political pressure.
Levinson had previously told the mayor that she would not seek another term as auditor, but she agreed to stay and work on the new legislation, which would create an Office of Inspector General for the Seattle Police Department.
She told KUOW the mayor’s recent statements are "concerning, and reinforce the very point I and others have been making, that to be effective, all critical elements of the oversight system have to have real independence from the usual give-and-take of political decision-making. Otherwise these systems look good on paper, but are constantly at risk of being undercut or diminished.”
She added, “This does not bode well for the prospects of us achieving real sustained police reform.”