Complaint Process

Steps in the Complaint Process

When a complaint is filed, OPA documents it and responds with a notice of receipt, including a case number. If you are unsure how to file a complaint, please visit the File a Complaint page.

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 specific 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. The supervisor then classifies the complaint - which indicates how it will be processed - as one of the following within 30 days of the complaint being filed:

  • 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:

  • Mediation: The 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 Adjudication: The 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 investigation, the complaint is assigned to an OPA investigator for further examination. If possible, OPA will assign the complaint to the same investigator who conducted the preliminary investigation. The investigation generally involves gathering additional evidence and interviewing the employee.

In many cases, this step may take roughly three to four months. When finished, the investigator submits the completed investigation to a supervisor for approval. The supervisor then transmits the case file to the OIG for final review and certification. The OIG documents in writing whether the investigation is certified as thorough, timely, and objective. OIG may also direct OPA to conduct additional investigation prior to certifying the case.

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.

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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