A new Washington agency created to put greater civilian oversight over police violence has found its executive director.
Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday appointed Roger Rogoff, a current attorney for Microsoft who spent nearly three decades in the King County criminal justice system, to lead the Office of Independent Investigations.
The office, with a $24 million two-year budget and an eventual staff of about 80 people, will wield the authority to take over investigations throughout Washington that involve police violence. The office was created during the 2021 legislative session in response to outcry over current investigative practices.
Inslee appointed Rogoff at the recommendation of an 11-person advisory board made up of attorneys, a police chief and at least one person who has lost a family member to police violence.
Inslee said at a press conference that he hoped the appointment will inspire more trust.
“This office is about getting to the truth… it’s about providing justice to families,” Inslee said. “And it’s about getting truly independent investigations so that all of us can have a highly credible, factual basis on which to make decisions.”
Reached by phone Wednesday, Rogoff said he sought the position for a chance to mend relationships in the state.
“I’ve been a part of the criminal justice system for my entire career. I’ve seen it work really well and I’ve seen the inequities that have seen it not work really well,” Rogoff said. “This is a part of the system that has not worked really well. There’s been a lack of credibility of these investigations in the minds of the people who have been impacted by it.”
The office is still taking shape. Among Rogoff’s first duties will be to develop policies and procedures, such as how they will work with local law enforcement agencies. There may also be a policy question as to what extent the office can investigate, and whether the office would ever investigate a case that didn’t involve deadly force.
“That’s something the office is going to have to make a decision on,” said Hector Castro, a governor’s office spokesperson. “The priority is to make sure these investigations are performed at the highest level, that they’re high-quality, that they have great credibility.”
To start, the office will be limited on the time frame of its investigations. The state law requires that for the first year, the Office of Independent Investigations only focus on new cases. That timeline expands in July 2023, when the office may begin considering past cases to reopen.
Currently, an officer’s use of deadly force in Washington will spur an investigation by an entity known as an Independent Investigative Team – or IIT. IITs are mostly comprised of police from neighboring agencies. Two citizens also serve on the teams, but not in any investigatory capacity.
Like the new office, IITs are an outgrowth of public concern. In 2019, a group of Washington residents successfully petitioned to put changes to deadly-force laws on the ballot. The resulting initiative, Initiative 940, passed.
Police reform advocates have continued to push. Data collected by members of the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability show there have been 144 fatal police shootings since December 2018.
When asked how he felt about balancing the desires of those who want reform with existing law enforcement, Rogoff said he felt credible and thorough investigations would speak for themselves.
“I think that everyone involved in these cases - from law enforcement to impacted communities to families who are directly impacted - really want two things,” he said. “Really credible, well-done investigations .... and transparency and understanding about how these investigations work.”