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Groups criticize police oversight

A coalition of groups fighting for stronger police oversight said Tuesday that a new police contract shouldn’t stop the city from giving the new police ombudsman more authority.

Last fall, the Spokane City Council asked Mayor Mary Verner to negotiate with the Spokane Police Guild to give Police Ombudsman Tim Burns independent investigative power. But the city agreed to a two-year police contract with no such expansion.

Under the city’s police oversight rules, Burns takes complaints about the police and forwards them to the department’s internal affairs office. Burns monitors the police investigation and can participate in detective interviews, but he lacks the authority to conduct his own inquiries.

The Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane and other groups are asking city leaders to pass a law giving the ombudsman investigatory power. Officials with the Center for Justice argue that that power does not have to be negotiated with police unions.

“The failure to accomplish independent oversight has resulted in growing frustration, cynicism, fear and lack of respect and trust for our police department and lack of faith in our city leaders,” PJALS director Liz Moore said at a news conference Tuesday.

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