The King County Council unanimously approved Monday measures recommended by two reviews of how the King County Sheriff's Office (KCSO) addresses misconduct allegation, citizen complaints, and appropriate use of force.
The council's vote enacts deadlines for the sheriff to meet recommendations in the two reports, reporting back to the council when he reaches certain benchmarks in his progress.
The King County Auditor conducted the first review in July. It found that civilian and internal complaints of officers weren't handled properly and that field supervisors were not acting on complaints or passing them on to the internal investigation unit, which ultimately was unable to do its job.
In particular, the report found that King County had only two use-of-force internal investigations in 2011, while most large cities had well over 100. This report included 16 recommendations to improve internal investigations and oversight.
The second review, released by King County's Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) Sept. 11, pointedly criticized the department's handling of officer-involving shootings and use of force. The report made 25 recommendations, including the creation of a Use of Force Review Board to further investigate such instances and replace the current Shooting Review Board.
The Shooting Review Board was criticized for its lack of "serious deliberation and explicit reasoning for the decisions made by that board." In addition, review board packets from 2005-2011 were "not well maintained and crucial documents were missing from each packet," in spite of Washington law requiring the board to maintain such files for at least five years.
The report identified a number of oversights in KCSO's investigations of shootings and excessive force, ranging from a lack of "thorough" examination of any prior incidents the officer was involved in, identifying at-risk officers and the loss, misplacement or destruction of documents important to conducting an investigation.
Of particular concern to those conducting the audit was the department's policy of a 72-hour waiting period before an officer was required to submit a statement. Currently, officer's provide a written statement and not an oral interview that immediately follows an incident, which the report said could lead to officers to reconstruct, rather than "purely recollect," events. In addition, when officers did write their report, their statements were "often truncated and self-serving,"
In one shooting that involved an unarmed suspect, the report stated that there had been "no discussion of the possible strategic, tactical, and procedural errors that gave rise to the confrontation that ended with an unarmed person dead. Indeed, the memorandum displays a less than inquisitive response to the shooting in question and in essence exonerated the officers without investigation."
The 25 recommendations for KCSO outlined in the report included the following:
- New use of force policy
- Implementation of Taser International guidelines
- Deputies need to make statements immediately after a use of force incident and statements need to be recorded by a commanding officer rather than written by the deputy
- KCSO should make greater use of "less lethal options" and consideration of such options be included in any shooting analysis
- KCSO should "focus more of their investigation of shooting incidents on the deputy... and the incident as opposed to circumstances surrounding the suspect
- Permanent retention of Shooting Review Board files, including records of votes and the removal of police Guild members
King County Sheriff Steve Strachan agreed stricter policies on the use of force would be good for the department.
"My role as sheriff is to do all I can to ensure that we're moving toward best procedures and good policy and that's exactly what this audit helps us do," Strachan said.