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'Significant number' of disciplinary actions not documented within SPD, audit finds

The Office of Inspector General found a "significant number" of disciplinary actions were not documented in personnel folders.
Credit: KING 5

SEATTLE — There are gaps within the Seattle Police Department's disciplinary system that diminish transparency and fairness for community members affected by police misconduct, a new audit found.

Though the City of Seattle Office of Inspector General didn't observe circumstances typically thought to be most harmful to public trust, there are gaps in the system that impact timeliness, fairness, consistency, and transparency of officer discipline, according to the audit.

The Office of Inspector General found a "significant number" of disciplinary actions were not documented in personnel folders, potentially impacting records requests and employment checks.

Other key findings included inconsistency in referrals for additional training, sometimes resulting in a gap in accountability for minor policy violations. Suspensions, the audit found, were not "consistently served in a timely matter." 

Additionally, the audit found people who filed complaints against the department were not consistently identified by the Office of Police Accountability or being notified of case status in a timely fashion.

Police chiefs were also found to demonstrate a "clear preference for lower levels of discipline" when given a proposed range, including when termination was included in that range of discipline, according to the audit. The reason, the audit suggests, may be because those officers are entitled to a hearing with the chief beforehand, while complainants are not given equal opportunity. 

"The disciplinary system appears to generally account for, and escalate disciplinary penalties according to, an officer’s disciplinary history," the audit states.

Appeals, too, are an area of "great potential impact" on accountability. However, the Office of Inspector General found no significant disciplinary actions were overturned or reduced during the audit. However, few appeals were actually heard.