Police practice in Olympia: Which oversight model, and which consultant, will the city choose?


Olympia's Social Justice & Equity Commission met yesterday  to discuss the police auditor's annual report and roles.

In December last year, the commission was tasked with evaluating models for civilian oversight of the Olympia Police Department. They are comparing proposals from consultants, one of which they will select to recommend to the city council to hire to become a consultant to the Commission.

"As part of your work plan, [the] council asked you to serve in the role of oversight for the police auditor while you are undergoing an evaluation and recommendation for a police oversight model," Assistant City Manager Debbie Sullivan told the commission, which met via Zoom. [Editor's Note: This Debbie Sullivan is a different person from the Debbie Sullivan who serves as Tumwater's mayor.]

Small chunks

 "Learning what the police auditor does could take a very long time, so an idea that we had was to give it to you in small chunks every month," Sullivan said.

The current police auditor Tara L. Parker attended the meeting to give insights about the office's current complaint process, roles and responsibilities and also to review the 2021 report, findings and recommendations.

According to its website, the police auditor "provides an independent review and audit of investigations of complaints about the Police Department and/or its employees to increase public trust and confidence.”

When asked about the qualifications of a police auditor, Parker said that if one looks across the country, the standards for selecting one are up to the community.

“Communities vary tremendously in terms of their size and resources. But I would expect that, at a minimum, it would be a person who had some depth of experience examining the legal issues around police oversight,” Parker explained.

“I'm actively engaged in talking to the chief about whether some of the definitions Olympia is using perhaps may or may not be the best definitions or the best way to formulate those policies,” Parker added.

Parker shared that she reviews all of the reports to make sure that they're complete, consistent, and sensible, “Looking at objectiveness– are they really scrutinizing these things? Are they being sufficiently critical in their analysis of whether the officers have complied with the policies? Are the subjects involved being treated the same, irrespective of their race?”

“Sometimes, the officer's reporting was not very thorough, and that was part of my recommendations. I've seen tremendous progress in terms of the thoroughness of the reporting of the officers,” Parker said.

The objective of all of this work is to select a model of civilian oversight of law enforcement appropriate to the needs of Olympia.


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