Nearly 10 years after the City of Olympia cut its police auditor position due to recession-caused budget constraints, the city is poised to have auditing services once again. The city has contracted with three attorneys who will share the role of auditor.
On Monday, city council member unanimously approved a one-year contract with Ogden Murphy Wallace, a Seattle-based law firm with an extensive portfolio in workplace complaint and law enforcement consultation experience.
Assistant City Manager Debbie Sullivan said the firm was one of two applicants interviewed by members of the general government committee on Oct. 8. The committee unanimously agreed to recommend the city council contract with Ogden Murphy Wallace.
The council has sought to contract with an outside party to audit police investigations since Aug. 11, when it officially launched the hiring process. This contract goes into effect immediately. Officials have allocated a maximum of $30,000 to pay for auditing services.
“I want to appreciate all the community that’s been coming out, really for the last year, asking for this position to be a priority,” said Councilperson Renata Rollins. Ongoing protests against racism and police brutality in Olympia prompted the council to take a number of actions toward protecting vulnerable and minority populations, who find themselves thrust into the justice system at disproportional rates.
Ogden Murphy Wallace has 66 attorneys across two offices, in Seattle and Wenatchee. This contract with the city of Olympia retains the services of three of its attorneys: Karen Sutherland, Beth Van Moppes and Tara Parker. Parker, who addressed the council during its Monday meeting, said all three are licensed private investigators and attorneys focused on employment law and employment misconduct investigation. They will share the position.
According to the contract, these lawyers will have access to police investigations on officer misconduct. Currently, the police department does internal investigations into all complaints of officer misconduct. The lawyers are tasked with ensuring each investigation is thorough, fair and unbiased. If they find an investigation wasn’t thorough enough, they are authorized to tell the police chief to investigate further. Then, the police chief has the option of either ordering more investigation or writing an explanation of why further investigation isn’t possible. These lawyers will also look into citizen complaints of police use-of-force incidents — or incidents where police use tactics that may physically harm a citizen.
The lawyers will write two reports per year, listing their investigations and the results. Councilperson Jim Cooper noted he’d also like the council and public to receive timely updates when these lawyers are auditing an investigation.
Councilperson Dani Madrone said that all council members have gotten tons of emails from citizens complaining about police conduct during recent protests. It’s not clear yet to the council, however, what constitutes a complaint for the lawyers to investigate. Assistant City Manager Sullivan recommended the council and auditors work out those details. Councilperson Clark Gilman said the process of filing a complaint should be easy, to ensure that people aren’t reluctant to speak up if they’re concerned about an officer’s actions.