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posted Friday, June 25, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 26
Anne Levinson to serve as civilian auditor
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Anne Levinson to serve as civilian auditor

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

Anne Levinson, former judge, deputy mayor, legal counsel for Mayor Norm Rice, and chair of Washington Utilities & Transportation Commission, will serve as the civilian auditor for the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA).

Levinson, one of the state's first openly LGBT public officials and chair of Washington Families Standing Together, the statewide coalition campaign to approve Referendum 71 and keep the state's domestic partnership law from being repealed, was nominated for the position of civilian auditor by the mayor.

This is a civic appointment with a two-year term, an outside advisor to the City to help oversee investigations and allegation of police misconduct. "Audit" refers to the role of reviewing the complaints filed and investigations of police misconduct, to make sure that complaints are properly classified, investigations occur as they should, appropriate discipline is imposed, and the rights of both the complaints and the officers are respected.

Two recent incidents in Seattle have highlighted the significance of a strong police accountability system.

Levinson will also assess policies, procedures and training that impact the accountability of the Police Department and make recommendations to the mayor, City Council, and chief of police to strengthen police accountability, build trust, and reduce police misconduct.

Seattle's police accountability structure is somewhat unique nationally. The OPA has three separate parts: In addition to the independent auditor, within the Police Department there is a civilian director and officers who conduct internal investigations. There is also the OPA Review Board, which is made up of seven citizens who serve as liaison to the public. Current City Attorney Pete Holmes chaired this board. The OPA civilian auditor's position to which Levinson was just appointed was expanded in 2008 after the Police Accountability Review Panel called for 29 changes to Seattle's police accountability system, including a stronger role of outside auditor.

"The overwhelming majority of officers work day in and day out with the highest standards and deep commitment to those they serve, but policing is a difficult and complex profession and there inevitably will be officers and situations where issues must be addressed," Levinson told SGN. "When done well, policing brings a community together to solve problems, reduce crime and build relationships of trust. Policing at its best means that everyone in a community feels the law works fairly for all."

"Successful law enforcement is not just a matter of reducing crime, but of doing so in such a way that all individuals feel that they are being treated fairly, equally, and with respect," she said. "That means consistent and fair enforcement. Seattle Police work hard to build relationships with diverse communities, but any time there is disproportionate action, disparate treatment, or the perception of either, those relationships and that trust can quickly be put at risk. Of course the enforcement must be legal, but legality alone isn't enough. There needs to be legitimacy as well in order to have public trust. That means behavior that is not just legal, but is viewed as consistent with community values as well."

"The auditor's role is to make sure that investigations of alleged misconduct are objective, thorough, and timely, preserve due process rights, and are resolved with appropriate action," Levinson told SGN. "Leadership, training, supervision, and investigations should foster a culture that will not tolerate misconduct, will acknowledge misconduct when it occurs and implement reform when necessary, identify problems, respond swiftly and hold people accountable."

Levinson says that a strong accountability system should make a positive difference for both the public and the officers, enhancing trust and mutual respect between the officers and their command staff and between the police and the community.

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