OLEO highlights complaint and discipline trends, the quality of investigations, and policy recommendations
Seattle – The King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) released its 2018 Annual Report today at a briefing of the Metropolitan King County Council’s Law and Justice Committee.
“OLEO’s annual report provides important information to the community as well as King County’s elected leaders to understand where things stand on issues that impact public confidence in policing,” said OLEO Director, Deborah Jacobs. “The recommendations OLEO made to the King County Sheriff’s Office in 2018 consider established law enforcement expertise, community perspectives, equity and social justice.”
The report summarizes OLEO’s operations, challenges, and goals in its work to address issues impacting Sheriff’s Office internal accountability systems, department performance, and ultimately, community-police relations. It also provides findings related to Sheriff’s Office operations, policies and practices that fall under OLEO’s independent review. The report covers 2018, Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht’s first year in office.
Complaints & Discipline
The Sheriff’s Office received a total of 589 complaints in 2018, with about 58% coming from community members and 42% coming from Sheriff’s Office employees.
The Internal Investigations Unit (IIU) investigated nearly 60% (348) of the complaints it received.
The most common allegation of misconduct reported by community members was excessive or unnecessary use of force, which made up 26% (108) of the allegations (often complaints involve more than one allegation).
Of the 108 allegations of excessive or unnecessary use of force, the Sheriff’s Office sustained only one. The sustain rate for the five most common allegations of misconduct reported by community members was 10% in 2018, and the sustain rate for five most common allegations originating from Sheriff’s Office employees was 49%.
In 2018, there were a total of 184 corrective actions or discipline taken as a result of sustained allegations. The most common outcome was suspension, followed by written reprimand, termination, and corrective counseling.
Monitoring the Quality of Investigations
OLEO reviews Sheriff’s Office misconduct investigations to ensure they are thorough, objective, and timely based on established investigatory standards. Of the 342 investigations completed by the Sheriff’s Office:
- OLEO reviewed 127 to evaluate whether the investigations were thorough, objective and timely.
- OLEO asked for additional investigation or documentation in 27 investigations.
- OLEO did not certify 18 cases as thorough, objective, and timely.
- Of the 18 cases OLEO did not certify, 10 related to the rights of the Sheriff’s Office employees, including cases in which they were not properly notified of the allegations against them or the investigation was not completed in a timely manner.
Reasons for non-certification include: failure to interview subjects (i.e. complainants and/or witnesses); failure to notify officers of their rights; failure to identify any allegations; failure to photograph a complainant after a use of force; and conflict of interest.
One of the cases OLEO declined to certify involved two African American teens stopped by the Sheriff’s Office at the White River Amphitheater. OLEO found the investigation inadequate based on failure to interview key parties, among other things. Earlier this week it was announced that the County would settle with those teens for $80,000.
OLEO Policy and Training Input
OLEO’s annual report also outlines recommendations on specific policies and procedures in the Sheriff’s Office’s General Orders Manual, one of OLEO’s functions. OLEO made policy recommendations relating to:
- Use of force reporting, investigation and review procedures
- Less-lethal shotguns
- Foot pursuits
- Off-Duty employment
Of the recommendations, thus far none have been fully adopted by the Sheriff’s Office. Details onavailable on OLEO’s website.
OLEO also provided significant input in 2018 into Sheriff’s Office trainings, and particularly a three-day in-service de-escalation training. In addition, OLEO introduced Sheriff’s Office command staff to anti-bias training by Dr. Bryant Marks of Morehouse College in Atlanta. Following the positive reception to his training, the Sheriff’s Office engaged Dr. Marks to train all its personnel in 2019 and 2020.
OLEO Systemic Reviews
One way that OLEO can impact how the Sheriff’s Office serves the public is by conducting systemic reviews and publishing reports and recommendations on topics relating to systems, policies, and practices. In 2018, OLEO issued three such reports:
- Report on the Sheriff’s Office’s public information practices by the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida.
- Report on complaint intake classifications for internal investigations by consultants at Daigle Law Group.
- Report analyzing use of force complaints by consultants at Change Integration Consulting, et al.
The Sheriff’s Office did not respond to these reports until, at the end of 2018, the King County Council adopted a budget proviso withholding certain funding until the Sheriff’s Office provided a response to OLEO’s recommendations in these reports. The Sheriff’s Office finally provided its response in April 2019, but OLEO still awaits adoption of most of its recommendations.
OLEO is an independent office established by the King County Council to represent the interests of the public in its efforts to hold the Sheriff’s Office accountable for providing fair and just police services.
The true power of OLEO’s oversight exists in the ability to share information about policing operations in King County with the public. Although OLEO seeks to work with the Sheriff’s Office and community in implementing OLEO’s recommendations, the Sheriff holds full authority to decide what to implement.
“OLEO’s reports provide expert data, analysis and policy recommendations, but it is incumbent upon Sheriff’s Office leadership to utilize this expertise in the interest of enhancing public trust and utilizing established best practices,” said Jacobs.
You can read OLEO’s report online at: https://www.kingcounty.gov/independent/law-enforcement-oversight/reports.aspx