Washington state is standing up a first-in-the-nation state office to independently investigate cases that involve police use of deadly force. In June, former prosecutor and superior court judge Roger Rogoff was chosen by Gov. Jay Inslee to be the first director of the new department.
Eventually slated to have 80 employees, the Washington Office of Independent Investigations (OII) has hired just over a dozen and does not expect to begin investigating cases before the end of 2022. According to Rogoff, the process of standing up a new investigative agency takes time, and it’s critical for the credibility of the office that it first develop the training and protocols that will enable it to do thorough, transparent investigations.
When fully staffed, more than half of OII’s employees will be investigators. The office will also have liaison positions, whose job will be to communicate with impacted families and communities.
OII investigations will take over for investigations that are currently conducted by Incident Investigation Teams — IITs, made up of law enforcement from neighboring jurisdictions — that were created by Initiative 940, approved by voters in 2018. Unlike the ITTs, the new office is not connected to law enforcement agencies, nor to prosecuting agencies.
When up and running, the office will produce a report for each policy deadly force case it investigates. Reports will include all details of a case but will not make charging decisions, which will be left to local prosecutores. Reports will be publicly available on the OII’s still-in-development website.
Rogoff believes communication and transparency will be key to the success of the new office. He says a problem with current investigations is that the parties involved — family members, local communities, and law enforcement agencies — are often not informed about what’s happening with a given case.