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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: police ombudsman

Spokane police watchdog reappointed, details jump in internal complaints

Last night was a big one for Tim Burns, the Spokane Police ombudsman.

He was reappointed for another one-year term, setting him off on his fifth year as the civilian watchdog for Spokane police. Burns was appointed for a three-year term in 2009 by then-Mayor Mary Verner. His one year extension last night came from Mayor David Condon and a unanimous vote by the City Council.

Burns also unveiled his 2013 mid-year report, which contained some surprising numbers.

First, of the 142 complaints against the department in the first six months of the year, 75 were classified as formal. Of those 75, 15 came from within the department. This is a huge jump when compared to the same time period last year, when just three complaints were internally generated, of 46 total complaints.

Burns told the City Council the increase was notable, but he was unable to say what might be driving the change. 

Burns also noted a decrease in taser use by police, which happened 14 times in 11 incidents this year. In the first six months of 2012, a taser was used 25 times in 21 incidents.

Finally, Burns said he was concerned by the increase in SWAT activations. In the first half of 2012, SWAT was called out 21 times. This year, it happened 29 times.

Check out the whole report on the ombudsman's website, or read it here.

Spokane hosts national ombudsman conference

With the future of Spokane's police ombudsman program in question, the city soon will be awash in government ombudsmen (and women) arriving for an international conference on public oversight.

The United States Ombudsman Association is gathering in Spokane for its 33rd annual conference Oct. 8 to 12 at the Red Lion Inn at the Park. Training opportunities include a session on conducting independent investigations, which is a hot-button issue in Spokane where the police ombudsman is prohibited from investigating allegations of police misconduct.

Spokane's office of Police Ombudsman is hosting the conference. Last month, Spokane Mayor David Condon stunned the City Council and others by announcing the departure of the city's first police ombudsman, Tim Burns, whose contract is expiring and wasn't being renewed. Condon later asked Burns to stay through the end of the year.

Among the reasons Condon gave for avoiding a new contract for Burns is that the city could be changing the way it oversees police conduct after the mayor's Use of Force Commission completes its study of the police department.

Chief OKs probe into alleged misconduct

Spokane County Jail inmate Justin Anest is pictured in 2006. He filed a federal civil rights lawsuit for a 2004 beating in the county jail. He claims to have been beaten again over the weekend in September 2006. The lawsuit was dismissed. Anest filed the complant that led to the dispute between the ombdusman and interim police chief. (SRarchives)

A disagreement between the interim Spokane police chief and the ombudsman about how a police misconduct allegation should be investigated has been resolved after witnesses came forward with new information.

A meeting scheduled last Friday between Interim Chief Scott Stephens, Ombudsman Tim Burns and Mayor David Condon never happened because Stephens informed Condon of his intention to investigate the accusation that police bruised a woman’s arms while handcuffing her at her home in early April.

Read the rest of my story here, which includes comment from the complanient, Justin Anest, and information on his background.

City Council limits ombudsman powers

Spokane’s police ombudsman on Monday lost the power to independently investigate misconduct allegations against the city’s law enforcement officers.

The Spokane City Council voted 5-2 Monday to repeal police oversight rules it approved unanimously last year, blaming an arbitrator’s decision in July that determined the expanded powers violated the Spokane Police Guild’s labor contract.

Read the rest of Jon Brunt's story here.

Past coverage:

Aug. 23: Council debates police oversight rules

July 13: Police ombudsman rules downgraded

City council looks at police oversight

Spokane City Council members suggested they may need voters to save the stronger police oversight rules they approved last year, by working to place the concept on the ballot.

Passions were high during the council’s Monday meeting as they discussed overturning police oversight rules. The debate included a few shouting matches between attendees and Council President Joe Shogan.

Read the rest of Jon Brunt's story here.

Past coverage:

July 13: Police ombudsman rules downgraded

Police ombudsman rules downgraded

An arbitrator this week revoked a law that strengthened Spokane’s police ombudsman powers because the city did not consult the Spokane Police Guild before it was approved last year.

The decision by arbitrator Michael H. Beck effectively reverses rules that strengthened the ability of police Ombudsman Tim Burns to investigate alleged officer misconduct independently of police. The opinion was dated Monday; the city received it Tuesday.

The power to examine police wrongdoing separate from the police department’s own investigators is a change in working conditions that must be negotiated with the guild, Beck ruled.

Read the rest of the story here.

Past coverage:

June 29: Spokane police ombudsman gains power

Vote gives SPD ombudsman more power

Almost a year after he was hired, Spokane’s police ombudsman on Monday was granted the power to investigate cases of officer misconduct.

The Spokane City Council voted unanimously to increase the ombudsman’s authority after the third hearing on the topic in two months.

Kiondra Bullock, executive director of VOICES, a group that advocates for low-income people, called the council’s decision “historic.”

“We still have a long way to go, but we are extremely encouraged by the changes here tonight,” she said.

Read the rest of Jonathan Brunt’s story here.

SPD ombudsman wants investigatory power

The Spokane City Council is scheduled tonight to consider allowing police Ombudsman Tim Burns to gather information on his own, separately from the Police Department’s Internal Affairs division, when Burns disagrees with the police chief’s decision that no further investigation into alleged misconduct is needed.

Last week, Burns said he now believes that the ability to gather his own information and conduct interviews would help give his office needed credibility.

Read Jonathan Brunt’s story here.

Memo delays council’s ombudsman vote

Two dozen people urged the Spokane City Council to let the city police ombudsman listen to someone other than police about police misconduct, but a confidential legal memo stood in the way Monday.

Councilman Bob Apple was the lone opponent of an effort to delay for a month any decision on his proposal to let ombudsman Tim Burns conduct his own investigations into complaints of police misconduct.

Read the rest of John Craig’s story here.

Council to consider SPD ombudsman boost

An effort to expand the powers of the city of Spokane’s police ombudsman may go before the City Council tonight.

The proposed ordinance would allow Ombudsman Tim Burns to go beyond simply observing internal police probes and allow him to publish reports on those investigations – with a few exceptions – and contact the people who make complaints against police officers. He would also be allowed to interview witnesses of the incidents that led to complaints.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse’s story here.

Police ombudsman submits first report

The first 18 of 19 internal investigations into police actions to be reviewed by Spokane’s police ombudsman have been labeled “timely, thorough and objective.”

Spokane’s first police ombudsman, Tim Burns, released data about his first few months on the job this week as part of his annual report to City Council.

Read Jonathan Brunt’s story here.

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