Employee Complaint Process

Steps in the Complaint Process

A Notice of Receipt of Complaint, also referred to as a 5-day notice, is required by collective bargaining agreement to notify employees named in an OPA complaint within five business days of receiving the complaint. It does NOT imply a full investigation will take place. It is provided to every employee named in every complaint.

If the complaint involves an unknown employee, OPA sends a 5-day notice of the complaint to the Seattle Police Officers Guild or the appropriate bargaining unit for the unknown employee. If OPA discovers the identity of the employee during the preliminary investigation, the employee will be notified of the complaint within five days of that discovery.

The case is assigned to an OPA investigator for preliminary investigation. This entails gathering evidence, analyzing documentation and video, and interviewing the complainant, if possible. 

A supervisor reviews the preliminary investigation and determines the exact allegations by assessing whether any laws or Seattle Police Department (SPD) policies would have been violated if the alleged actions are later proven to be true. Allegations might include, for example, excessive use of force, biased policing, or unprofessional behavior. OPA leadership then classifies the complaint - which indicates how it will be processed - as one of the following within 30 days of the complaint being filed:

If the complaint is classified for Investigation, Expedited Investigation, or Supervisor Action, the employee will receive a Classification Report from OPA within 30 days listing the specific SPD policy directives alleged to have been violated. For Supervisor Actions, the employee will generally receive counseling from his or her supervisor within 30-45 days of the complaint being filed. If the complaint is Contact Logged, the employee will receive an email with a Disregard Notice, and the case will be closed.

  • Contact Log: A case may be classified as a Contact Log under the following circumstances: (1) The complaint does not involve a potential policy violation by an SPD employee; (2) there is insufficient information to proceed with further inquiry; (3) the complaint is time-barred under the contractual statute of limitations; (4) the complaint has already been reviewed or adjudicated by OPA and/or Office of Inspector General (OIG); or (5) the complaint presents fact patterns that are clearly implausible or incredible, and there are no indicia of other potential misconduct.
  • Supervisor Action: The complaint generally involves a minor policy violation or performance issue that is best addressed through training, communication, or coaching by the employee's supervisor. In these instances, OPA sends a memo mandating the employee's supervisor to take specific, relevant action with the employee. The supervisor has 15 days to complete the action and return the case to OPA for review. Upon request by the supervisor, OPA may extend the deadline for completion. OPA may not classify allegations of excessive force, biased policing, and violations of law for Supervisor Action.
  • Investigation: The complaint alleges a violation of SPD policy or other category of violation that OPA is required by law and policy to investigate. In these instances, OPA conducts a comprehensive investigation (e.g., gathering additional evidence, interviewing involved parties and/or witnesses, etc.) and issues recommended findings. An OPA Investigation can result in formal discipline.
  • Expedited Investigation: The complaint alleges a violation of SPD policy or other category of violation that OPA is required by law and policy to investigate. However, OPA, with the agreement of OIG, determines that findings can be reached based on the intake investigation, and no further investigation needs to be conducted. In cases classified for Expedited Investigation, OPA will generally not interview named employees but may interview witness employees. Per collective bargaining agreements, if OPA does not interview a named employee, allegations against them cannot be sustained. This classification may be appropriate if: (1) the evidence shows that misconduct did not occur as alleged; (2) minor misconduct occurred, but OPA deems corrective action via a training referral, rather than discipline, to be appropriate; or (3) minor misconduct may have occurred, but there is a systemic issue with SPD policy or training for which OPA deems a Management Action Recommendation to be appropriate. When appropriate, and based on specific eligibility criteria, some complaints are processed via an alternative dispute resolution method.

Alternative Dispute Resolution Methods:

  • MediationThe complaint involves a misunderstanding or conflict between an SPD employee and a community member that may be suitable for resolution via a face-to-face discussion by the involved parties. Mediation is voluntary and can only occur if both parties agree to participate. It is an opportunity for the employee and community member to discuss the conflict with the guidance of a neutral, third-party mediator. If the mediator reports that the employee participated in good faith (listened and participated respectfully), the complaint will not appear on the employee's disciplinary record.
  • Rapid AdjudicationThe complaint involves a minor to moderate policy violation that the named employee recognizes was inconsistent with policy. The employee is willing to accept discipline in place of undergoing a full OPA Investigation.

If OPA classifies the complaint for Full Investigation, an OPA investigator is assigned to the case and will contact the employee via email to schedule an in-person interview. It is the employee's responsibility to contact his or her bargaining unit if they would like representation at their OPA interview. If the Classification Report indicates the complaint will be handled as an Expedited Investigation, likely no interview will take place. Non-represented employees may refer to the City Personnel Rules for further information.

The OIG reviews the investigation to ensure that OPA completed it in a thorough, objective, and timely manner. The OPA Director may then issue a recommended finding for each allegation raised.

The OPA Director reviews completed investigations and issues a memorandum to the employee's Chain of Command recommending a finding for each allegation using a preponderance of the evidence standard. The memorandum summarizes the evidence collected in the investigation and provides an analysis of the facts through the application of relevant law and policy. OPA generally issues findings within six months of complaint filing.

If the greater weight of the evidence-more than 50%-supports the allegation, the recommended finding will be sustained. For sustained findings, the Chief of Police determines the final discipline to impose. Only the Chief has the authority to impose discipline.

If the evidence shows that misconduct did not occur, or that minor misconduct occurred but is better handled through retraining and counseling, the recommended finding will be not sustained, accompanied by one of the following explanations:

  • Unfounded: The evidence indicates the alleged policy violation did not occur as reported or did not occur at all.
  • Lawful and Proper: The evidence indicates the alleged conduct did occur but was justified and consistent with policy.
  • Inconclusive: The evidence neither supports nor refutes the allegation of misconduct.
  • Training Referral: There was a potential, but not willful, violation of policy that does not amount to serious misconduct. The employee's chain of command will provide appropriate training and counseling.
  • Management Action: The evidence indicates the employee may have acted contrary to policy, but due to a potential deficiency in policy or training, OPA issues SPD a policy recommendation to clarify or revise the policy or training.

There are several administrative steps that may take place between the Director's issuance of recommended findings and the closing of the case. Please use OPA's Complaint Tracker to check the status of a case.

If the OPA Director recommends a sustained finding for one or more allegation(s), they schedule a meeting with the named employee's captain/civilian equivalent, assistant or deputy chief, and SPD employment counsel-which form the "discipline committee"-to review the case and answer any questions concerning the investigation and recommended findings. After the discipline meeting, the committee's proposed range of discipline is presented to the Chief of Police, who has the sole authority to determine and impose discipline.

The named employee and their union are notified of the proposed finding and the discipline committee's recommended disciplinary range in a document called the proposed Disciplinary Action Report (DAR), issued by the SPD Human Resources Director.

If the discipline involves an oral or written reprimand, and where the discipline committee does not recommend a range of discipline above a reprimand, the reprimand is issued at this point and is signed by an assistant chief. The discipline is served on the employee by their chain of command.

If the proposed range of discipline involves a suspension, demotion, or termination, the employee has an opportunity to meet with the Chief of Police to provide information they feel the Chief should consider before making a final decision. This is called the "due process" or Loudermill hearing. The Chief's office schedules the meeting. After the employee has presented information for the Chief to consider and the Chief has had an opportunity to review relevant information pertaining to the incident, the investigation, and the employee's personnel record and past disciplinary history, the Chief makes the final decision on findings and determines the discipline to be imposed for any sustained allegation(s). The SPD Human Resources Director notifies the employee and their union in writing through the final DAR.

Office of Police Accountability

Gino Betts, Director
Address: 720 3rd Avenue, 18th Floor, Seattle, WA , 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 34986, Seattle, WA , 98124-4986
Phone: (206) 684-8797
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