Voters could vote to affirm subpoena powers for civilian KCSO oversight agency

The King County charter review commission recommended enshrining the power in the charter.

Voters in King County could again weigh in on whether they want the civilian organization which oversees the Sheriff’s Office to have subpoena powers.

Since 2006, voters have twice approved the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) be granted investigative subpoena powers when looking into instances of alleged misconduct by Sheriff’s Office deputies and employees. The recently-submitted charter review commission report recommends subpoena powers be enshrined into the charter itself.

While county code already grants OLEO subpoena powers, the King County Police Officer’s Guild has successfully pushed for the power to be subject to its collective bargaining agreement. Approving the charter change wouldn’t affect that, but it would send a message on what the v0ting majority’s position was on subpoena powers.

“There was a lot of interest in reform and accountability on law enforcement,” said Tim Ceis, who sat on the charter review commission.

The OLEO was first created in 2006 by the county council as an independent office within the legislative branch. It was given authority to review complaints and investigations. However, shortly after it was approved, the King County Police Officers Guild filed an unfair labor practice charge against the county. In 2007 the county and Guild agreed that many of the powers granted to OLEO would have to be bargained as part of their contract, and the office wasn’t created.

The following year, a new five-year bargaining agreement was approved that essentially stripped OLEO of most of its power.

Then in November 2015, voters across the county voted to create OLEO as a charter-mandated county office and that its authorities be established in ordinance. Two years later in 2017, the county council passed an ordinance giving OLEO it’s voter-approved authority, including subpoena power.

Even still, subpoena power still needs to be bargained. Currently, the county executive represents the county’s financial interests during negotiations, while the Sheriff represents the county on work conditions. However, a vote on the charter amendment that affirmed voter’s desire for OLEO to have subpoena power could make it more likely to get through the negotiation process, said Toby Nixon, Kirkland city council member and charter review commissioner.

The Sheriff’s Office issued an email statement on subpoena powers.

“As we’ve stated previously, we do not believe the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight needs subpoena power to do its work. The OLEO already has access to our internal investigations records that allows them to carry out their duties. Even if subpoena power is put in the King County Charter, we question whether subpoena power is supported under the law. In addition, this issue would have to be bargained and accepted by all of our labor groups,” it states.

Deborah Jacobs, director of OLEO, said while subpoena power would still need to be bargained, the Guild and other unions need to know what the public expects in order for them to have a shot at bargaining and implementing it.

Other police oversight agencies around the county that have subpoena powers include New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago.


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