It’s past midnight here at the Spokane City Council. City Council President Joe Shogan recently announced that there will not be a vote tonight (or more accurately, this morning) about providing ombudsman the power to conduct independent investigation. But testimony is continuing. So far, a couple dozen people have talked, all in support of independent oversight.
The city hired its first ombudsman last summer, but rules haven’t allowed him to investigate allegations into police misconduct. Instead, he shadows police internal investigations and decides if the police have been thorough and fair.
In an interview last week, Ombudsman Tim Burns said he believes his office should have investigative authority. In a brief interview before the meeting, Mayor Mary Verner said she would wait to see the final version approved by the council before deciding if she would support giving the ombudsman investigative power. Verner said she hasn’t talked to Burns about his current opinion on the topic.
“I don’t know how much that (Burns’ opinion about the need for independent investigatory authority) reflects a need for a change in the ordinance,” Verner said.
The Spokane Police Guild, in an interview with Spokane Public Radio, has threatened to challenge any ordinance that expands the ombudsman’s authority. The most recent proposal under consideration would give Burns the power to begin interviewing witnesses as soon as a complaint is received. Burns would not have the power to interview guild members. (Related: Previous proposal, held over from the May 24 City Council meeting.)