Policing and Internal Affairs: Reaching for High Standards

It’s hard to stand up an effective police oversight agency or internal affairs unit overnight or worse, from scratch. Washington State’s King County gets high marks, though, for taking the first steps. In 2009, the King County Council passed legislation creating the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) – and tasked it with auditing the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO), which serves over 1.8 million residents in the largest county in the State of Washington.

Shortly after, the King County Auditor’s Office decided to examine the new program’s operations and engaged Hillard Heintze to conduct a thorough and independent assessment of the KCSO’s Internal Investigations Unit as well as the ability of the KCSO and OLEO to collaborate effectively.

Implementing National Best Practices

In early 2011, we initiated our assessment. Over a six-month period, our team:

  • Highlighted the positive factors it observed regarding the KCSO, IIU and the OLEO that contributed to operational effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Made recommendations to the Sheriff of King County on additional best practices that could be implemented in the department to help ensure the efficiency, effectiveness and credibility of the IIU process immediately and in the months and years ahead.
  • Made recommendations on best practices that could help establish the effectiveness of King County’s OLEO.
  • Provided the King County Auditor’s Office with recommendations that would assist it in future audits on the the effectiveness of the OLEO and the KCSO IIU.

Impact on Today’s Department

Upon review of our findings, the agency endorsed each of our 18 assessment recommendations. King County immediately began taking the critical next steps to bring the agency in line with contemporary best practices in law enforcement across the nation.

UNPLUGGED: The Perspective of Hillard Heintze’s CEO

“It’s not enough to put good cops on the street. Without independent oversight and public transparency, it’s only a matter of time before the few but insidious exceptions to good policing take root – and systematically begin undermining an organization’s culture and the community’s trust. Examples fill our files – and the pages of our nation’s newspapers.

The vast majority of jurisdictions are not proactive. They wait for an egregious act to occur. We commend the King County Auditor’s Office for its public commitment to prudent oversight – and its role in ensuring that the agencies it oversees are now adopting national best practices in law enforcement.”