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Spin Control

Tue., Jan. 26, 2010, 5:45 p.m.

WA Lege: How to handle cops who lie?

OLYMPIA -- Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick was among law enforcement brass who told said they should be allowed to fire an officer who lies without fear of being overruled by  an arbitrator.

Kirkpatrick joined sheriffs from King and Chelan counties who supported SB 6590, which was drafted to clarify a problem with state law raised in by a recent state Supreme Court ruling. The ruling overturned the firing of an officer for lying, saying the there was no explicit state policy that requires an officer to be truthful, so firing him was arbitrary.

An officer would have to be lying about a "material fact" in a case, Kirkpatrick said. An arbitrator should be able to rule on whether the department meets all the standards set down in the disciplinary process, she added; but if that's done, the decision to fire or not fire shouldn't be overturned by the arbitrator.

"I am the one who makes policy in my department on truthfulness," Kirkpatrick said. When she first arrived in Spokane, Kirkpatrick said one of her rules was "you lie, you die."

Representatives of police, deputies and state troopers said they don't disagree with the position that officers must tell the truth. But they said rules for arbitration are covered by union contracts and should be negotiated at the bargaining table, not unilaterally changed by legislation.

Sheriffs are held to the same standards by voters, and appointed department heads like Kirkpatrick are answerable to their mayors or councils and could be investigated for lying by an outside agency.

As the panel of law enforcement officials left the witness table, Senate Judiciary Chairman Adam Kline, D-Seattle, stopped Kirpatrick to ask: "What part of the South are you from?"

Memphis, she replied.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.