After almost two years of debate, Spokane leaders agreed on Monday to create a new police oversight system.
The agreement, which was negotiated with the Spokane Police Guild, will give the ombudsman power to examine Police Department investigations into complaints of officer misconduct.
The Spokane City Council voted 6-0 to back the proposal. Councilman Al French was absent.
Some City Council members said the agreement isn’t perfect, but that it’s “a good first step,” as Councilman Steve Corker labeled it.
“I’ve come to appreciate the fact that we either have an ombudsman or we don’t have an ombudsman,” said Councilman Richard Rush, who said last week that he was skeptical about the plan.
Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said she is confident that the ombudsman system will be impartial and fair.
“This is what the community wanted,” said Kirkpatrick, who praised the guild for negotiating on oversight. “I’m confident we’re going to have what this community thought it was going to get.”
The rules were criticized earlier this year by the Center for Justice, a public interest law firm, in part because they do not allow the ombudsman to conduct independent investigations, as recommended last year by Seattle attorney Sam Pailca, a police oversight expert commissioned by Kirkpatrick to consider an oversight plan.
Instead, the ombudsman will send complaints about officers to the police department’s Internal Affairs office for review. The ombudsman will examine Internal Affairs investigations and determine if its work was “thorough and objective.”
The ombudsman, who will be appointed to a three-year term, can ask for further investigation into a complaint. If the Internal Affairs office and police chief disagree, the mayor will have the final say.
City officials say the new office will help bring transparency to the department, but it’s unclear how much citizens will be told about any specific ombudsman ruling.
Rules approved by the council say that the ombudsman can’t publicly release names of employees, other people involved in an incident or any other identifying information.
Although the rules say the ombudsman will conduct no investigations, he or she will be called to the scene of any police action resulting in death or serious injury and will be charged with ensuring that investigations into police actions are objective.
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