City Hall

Police Oversight Director's Position Still in Limbo

By Erica C. Barnett August 21, 2012

Kathryn Olson, head of the Seattle Police Department's Office of Professional Accountability, which investigates police-misconduct complaints, has been doing her job in a sort of administrative limbo since May 2010, when her initial three-year appointment, by former mayor Greg Nickels, ran out. (The mayor nominates the head of OPA, who is confirmed by the council). Olson, in other words, has been doing her job for more than two years without an official reappointment.

City council public safety committee chair Bruce Harrell has tried repeatedly (like his predecessor in that role, Tim Burgess) to get McGinn to explain what his plans are for Olson's position and whether he plans to reappoint her. Back in June, Harrell wrote McGinn a letter asking him why he still has not submitted Olson's name to the council for reconfirmation.

"Because of the issues that we have been examining within our Seattle Police Department relative to police accountability, I understand why there has been some delay in the confirmation process; however, I would like to know when the confirmation packet will be delivered to our Committee," Harrell wrote on June 18, 2012, more than two years after Olson's appointment expired. "And respectfully, I would like to seek your understanding as to when either of you believe her second term would begin, or has begun."

OPA directors can only serve a total of nine years; the question is whether the clock stopped running down when Olson's first appointment expired or whether she has been officially serving as head of OPA since 2007, despite the fact that McGinn didn't reappoint her when that term ran out.

McGinn never responded to Harrell's initial letter, and on August 8, Harrell sent another, saying simply, "While I have received some courtesy contact from the Mayor and City Attorney on this issue, no clarification has been furnished.  Given the fact that a Community Police Commission will be formed in the near future and changes to OPARB are being contemplated, there continues to be a need for clarity on this issue, at least in terms of what our assumptions are or our intent is."

Harrell's office says he still hasn't heard back.

Harrell was out of town and unavailable for comment. Aaron Pickus, a spokesman for McGinn, said he was "not going to talk about personnel matters" but added that OPA and the city's police-accountability policies were "pretty regular topics of conversation" between McGinn and Harrell.
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