April 15, 2010 in City

Police ombudsman issues first report to city

Recommendations include new video policy, training
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Background and the latest updates

The first 18 of 19 internal investigations into police actions to be reviewed by Spokane’s police ombudsman have been labeled “timely, thorough and objective.”

Spokane’s first police ombudsman, Tim Burns, released data about his first few months on the job this week as part of his annual report to City Council.

The ombudsman does not have the power to independently investigate alleged misconduct but turns complaints over to the Police Department’s internal affairs unit. Burns can sit in on interviews and judge if the police examinations were “timely, thorough and objective.”

He said he asked police for more details before certifying about a third of the 18 investigations he approved.

The case he didn’t certify related to a police investigation into a fight that resulted in no arrests. Burns said one of the people involved claimed to be a victim and complained to the ombudsman that the police opted not to review a security tape of the incident.

When the internal affairs report returned to Burns, police still hadn’t reviewed the video. Burns said he requested they do so. Internal affairs investigators agreed to make an attempt to examine the video, but it was several weeks after the fight and footage had been erased, Burns said.

“I felt they had a duty to review the video,” Burns said.

Burns’ report also makes seven recommendations to the department, including one to deal with the video issue. He says the department should have a policy about viewing video in a timely manner if it has “potential evidentiary value.”

His other six recommendations to police include increasing training for corporals and providing all employees cultural awareness training.

Kirkpatrick said her department is examining Burns’ report.

“We’re taking all of his recommendations seriously,” Kirkpatrick said.

Burns isn’t releasing details about the incidents he’s investigating.

City Attorney Howard Delaney said last week the city is still trying to determine how it will respond to a public records request from the Inlander weekly magazine asking for ombudsman reports.

Burns said he’s concerned that releasing details of cases may discourage folks from filing complaints.

“The great majority” of people who have made complaints “value their privacy and confidentiality,” he said.

But Liz Moore, director of the Peace and Justice Action League, said the public should know more details into the allegations to help determine if police and the ombudsman are doing their jobs.

“There’s just not enough sunlight,” she said.

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