May 31, 2009 in City

Police overseer job comes with built-in blinders

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane’s attempt to hire our first police ombudsman has suffered a horrible setback.

No, I don’t mean that only two people bothered to show up at the City Council chambers Friday to take a gander at the ombudsman finalists.

(I was there, too, and that room was emptier than Joe Shogan’s wardrobe closet.)

The problem is far worse than that. All the candidates struck me as having backbones.

Especially this retired FBI agent, Tony Betz. The guy’s from Philly, no less, and even at 60 he looks like he could still run through a brick wall.

This bulldog would probably wind up indicting half the City Council.

The city doesn’t want to hire a bulldog. Heavens, no. We’re in the market for a nice, well-pedigreed bloodhound with absolutely no sense of smell.

Or teeth.

See, the ombudsman doesn’t come with any real independent investigative authority.

Whoever lands the job can kick complaints over to the SPD’s Internal Affairs. But he won’t be able to release names of principals in the complaints or even launch his own review.

It’s a sham. A dodge. We’re looking for an omdudsman.

Well, that’s what the Police Guild wants, anyway. And like Lola in “Damn Yankees,” the Police Guild gets whatever it wants in this whistle-stop.

So here’s a word of advice for Tough Tony, Tim Burns and Greg Weber.

Get out. Flee. Vamoose.

You hear me? Run for your lives with your résumés and your self-respect intact.

Oh, I wish things were different.

Spokane needs independent police oversight like the world needs a swine flu vaccine.

We need an ombudsman with an iron will.

We need an ombudsman who will dig into the facts behind some of our big civic mysteries, like …

How does an innocent and mentally ill janitor walk into a quickie mart for a candy bar and wind up on his deathbed after being clubbed, Tasered, hogtied, etc., by a couple of badged lads?

The disgrace of Otto Zehm hangs over this city like the stench of rotting garbage.

Hire an ombudsman and give him real authority.

That would go a long way toward restoring the mountain of distrust that Spokane residents have with their Police Department.

Until we do the right thing, I fear the social activists who gathered in the City Hall’s Chase Gallery earlier on Friday have it pegged.

“Spokane Deserves Real Police Accountability,” read a placard brandished by one woman.

“Fix it before you fill it,” said Liz Moore, who directs the Peace and Justice Action League.

That slogan works for our ombudsman position as well as our torn and potholed streets.

Shonto Pete also was among the speakers. You remember Pete. He took a bullet in the head two years ago after a wild footrace through the streets and sidewalks of Spokane with an off-duty, boozed-up, pistol-packing yahoo cop.

Am I the only one who considers Pete in the “Chase” gallery as a shot of amusing and unplanned irony?

Only in Spokane.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at dougc@spokesman.com.


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