Washington State’s newly established Office of Independent Investigations (OII), A civilian-led investigative team with a focus on anti-racist training, is looking for people who will make up the civilian investigator team to review police use-of-force cases.
Olympia City council members were briefed on the OII, a civilian-led investigating team, which will be up and running this year Tuesday, January 31.
OII director Roger Rogoff and his team spoke at the city council study session to discuss the new office, its mandate, policies and procedures, and the people that would make up the investigating team.
Created in 2021 through RCW 43.102, Rogoff said OII was created to address the breakdown of trust between law enforcement and certain communities.
After signing the law that created the agency, Rogoff said the governor gave them two mandates: to investigate new cases of police use of deadly force throughout the state and to reinvestigate cases in certain circumstances that had previously undergone an investigation.
"When I say under the circumstances, those are if new evidence is brought forth that was not considered at the time of the initial investigation," Rogoff said.
Rogoff added that the legislative intent is "to be competent, unbiased, thorough investigations, transparent and accountable, exhibiting dignity and respect for the impacted family, the law enforcement officers involved, and an agency that understands the impact of historical and systemic racism throughout policing."
"This system looks at these cases through an anti-racist lens," the director announced.
As an agency, Rogoff revealed, they undergo anti-racism and anti-bias training.
"We have made competency, effectiveness, and efficiency part of what we want to do with every investigation…I am not sending any investigator to a scene until they are trained, until there are policies in place so that the public knows what they are doing and how they will do it and how these investigations will be completed," Rogoff said.
The director announced the OII plan to have six offices across the state. He said each office would currently house between six and ten investigators who will be ready if a call comes out to get to the scene.
Rogoff added that the legislation indicates that they are authorized to take all uses-of-deadly force cases across the state.
"We will have policies and procedures that are very clear about which cases we will take and what factors we will look at when deciding whether to take a case. The main one to start with is we will take cases that result in death," Rogoff said.
Rogoff shared that the agency would have two tiers of investigators. One is senior investigators, primarily former law enforcement or trained to do in-depth investigations.
The second level of investigators, Rogoff said, are people with broad-range backgrounds. "We will be looking at folks who have done civil investigations in the state, city, or county agencies.
The office is also looking at younger people who have criminal justice degrees and lawyers who have gone to work at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other federal law enforcement agencies.
He added that the office is also looking for people with no experience or degrees related to investigations but who have the soft skills to do the work or have lived experience that would help in doing the investigative work.
"In this type of work, you can't cut corners, a result can't drive you, you have to follow the evidence, and you must do it carefully. You have to do it step by step. And if we can find folks with varied experience, we want to hire them and have them working for us," he said.
So far, the agency has hired 18 people.
According to Hector Castro, assistant director of OII Community Relations and Communications, one of the positions they want to fill in the agency is a community representative. He said they had yet to decide how many they wanted to hire. "The primary function is to engage with community organizations."
The enactment of Initiative-940 created independent investigation teams (IIT) across the state.
According to Rogoff, the IIT still exists and will continue to handle underlying criminal investigations. "They will also do investigations for any case that, at our discretion, we decide not to take. So, if it is non-death cases [for right now], those IITs will continue to take those cases and do that work."
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