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Legislation to Strengthen Subpoena Power of Office of Police Accountability and Office of Inspector General Passes at City Council

New Legislation Makes Explicit OPA and OIG’s Subpoena Powers in Investigations and Creates Process to Enforce Subpoenas

SEATTLE (January 4, 2021) – Mayor Jenny A. Durkan and Councilmember Lisa Herbold today celebrated the City Council’s 8-0 passage of their legislation to strengthen the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) and Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) power to subpoena those who may have been involved in or witnessed incidents of potential officer misconduct. In addition, OPA and OIG can seek a Court order should someone fail to comply with a subpoena for an investigation. The legislation also codifies and makes clear that complainants and witnesses who may be subpoenaed have due process protections; this effort is intended to increase civilian compliance with subpoenas and mitigate any chilling effects of providing information that might later be used in separate proceedings.

“This legislation is critical to promoting public confidence in our police oversight entities and advancing police accountability, and it sets the City on better footing to pursue stronger accountability measures in our collective bargaining agenda for the next round of negotiations with SPOG. Ultimately, Olympia must pass critical reforms this session regarding police discipline and other key accountability components,” said Mayor Durkan. “This is real progress, and it represents strong collaboration between my office, the City Council, civil rights groups, and the accountability partners. I’m grateful to Councilmember Herbold’s partnership in our ongoing effort to advance and strengthen police accountability and oversight.”

“For our civilian-led police accountability system to work, investigators must have access to key information in pursuing misconduct complaints. The City will negotiate aspects of this legislation in the next police union contract to keep us on the path toward realizing true accountability and transparency,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle and South Park), Chair of the Council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee.

“A strong police accountability system depends on civilian-led police accountability bodies having the power to do their jobs. That’s why the CPC pushed for the OPA and OIG to have increased subpoena powers in the historic 2017 Accountability Law. The adoption of today’s ordinance brings Seattle one step closer to fully implementing those reforms and meeting community expectations,” said Community Police Commission Executive Director Brandy Grant.

This ordinance codifies and affirms the City’s stance that the OPA and OIG can seek subpoenas of those who may have witnessed or been involved in potential misconduct incidents. In addition, it creates a process for OPA and OIG to directly issue the subpoena and enforce them by seeking a Court order should the subject of the subpoena fail to comply. The ordinance also requires that individuals and third party-record holders served with a subpoena are provided a written notice of their right to due process. This protection was not codified previously, and this addition is intended to increase civilian participation in OPA investigations and OIG audits and reviews.