Jun 30, 2022 - News

New civilian office to investigate cops is slow to start

Illustration of many magnifying glasses examining a police badge

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A new civilian office designed to investigate police uses of deadly force in Washington won't be ready to start its work by July 1 as originally expected.

Why it matters: Following the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Manuel Ellis in Tacoma, Washington's Legislature voted to create a new Office of Independent Investigations to add a layer of accountability and oversight for police.

  • State lawmakers said establishing the independent office was key to ensuring that officers who break the rules face consequences.

What's happening: The new agency, which exists within the governor's office, gains the authority to investigate police uses of force statewide starting July 1.

Yes, but: In an email update Tuesday, the agency's director, Roger Rogoff, said those investigations won't be happening immediately, because the agency has yet to hire staff and train them.

  • Rogoff wrote the new office is still "under construction."

The other side: Leslie Cushman, spokesperson for the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability, told Axios she worries the delay will allow for more police misconduct investigations that she called "not impartial" and "not credible."

  • "This means police are still going to be investigating police," said Cushman, whose coalition includes many family members of people killed by police officers. "We are very disappointed."

What they're saying: Rogoff said he still needs to hire and train staff — something he couldn’t do until he started his new position about two weeks ago.

  • "Before sending our investigators to a crime scene, we must hire personnel, train them, and create our investigative protocols," wrote Rogoff, an ex-prosecutor and former King County Superior Court judge.

Context: Jaime Smith, a spokesperson for Gov. Jay Inslee, wrote in an email to Axios that it took the governor's office "longer than we had hoped" to choose the person to lead the new office.

  • "This is an effort that we want to take time to get right rather than rush and get wrong," Smith wrote.
  • State Rep. Debra Entenman (D-Kent) said that although she would have preferred a faster ramp-up, she thinks the new agency "is still on schedule to be successful."
  • "I am optimistic," said Entenman, who sponsored the bill to create the office at Inslee's request.

What's next: Rogoff wrote that his agency, abbreviated as OII, is still working to "determine a feasible date by which OII investigators can realistically begin accepting case work."

What we're watching: A separate bill approved in 2021 gave a different oversight entity, the state Criminal Justice Training Commission, authority to investigate a wide range of police misconduct — not just uses of deadly force.

  • Citizens can now submit complaints about police behavior and the commission can choose to investigate.
  • A new portal allowing people to submit complaints directly to the commission went live last year.

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