September 23, 2008 in City

Council airs police oversight ordinance

Ombudsman role scrutinized at hearing
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The City Council took a first step toward giving Spokane some independent oversight of its Police Department by opening hearings on an ordinance for an ombudsman.

As written, the ordinance gives the ombudsman the power to investigate or recommend mediation of citizen complaints against officers but gives responsibility for any needed discipline to the police chief.

“The police discipline system is a product of the collective bargaining process,” City Attorney Howard Delaney said. “The ombudsman does not have a role in discipline.”

Donna McKereghan, an open government advocate, said that’s OK because the ombudsman’s job should not center on a particular officer but on issues of how the department handles its duties.

“The officers belong to the chief,” McKereghan said. “The issues belong to the (ombudsman) and the public.”

Changes to the ordinance were made as recently as Monday to comply with the agreement struck between the Police Guild and city officials through contract negotiations.

Ann Murphy, of the Spokane chapter of the League of Women Voters, said that organization supports the proposed ordinance as “a much-needed first step” because it has clear qualifications, well-defined work and a call for community outreach. But the group generally opposes term limits and does not like a provision that limits any ombudsman to two three-year terms, Murphy said.

The council also must follow through with a budget for the ombudsman and any staff that he or she might need, Murphy added.

Council President Joe Shogan said the city is trying to get something on the books, realizing that the ordinance is “not cast in concrete” and parts of it could be renegotiated with the Police Guild later.

“If we try to get too perfect an ordinance, we won’t get anything,” Shogan said.

The council will hold more hearings on the ombudsman. Shogan added: “We will not be resolving this issue tonight.”

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