May 25, 2010 in City

Ombudsman can’t polish police image

By The Spokesman-Review
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For the record, I am all in favor of elevating our police ombudsman into something more than a Spokane Police Guild sock puppet.

But do I think giving Tim Burns broader investigative powers is the solution to healing our troubled city law enforcement?

Hell, no.

In fairness to Burns, the City Council wasn’t looking for an ombudsman Sherlock Holmes.

I was one of the few who attended the ombudsman beauty pageant that was held about a year ago in City Hall. I listened to all three candidates give their “choose me” sales pitch.

Burns struck me as an affable and benign man who wouldn’t cause the Guild or the City Council a lick of trouble.

In other words, he was the perfect fit for the toothless ombudsman job requirements: sit in on internal police probes and write reports on whether the reviews were “timely, thorough and objective.”

Good job, Tim. (Yawn.)

Had the council wanted Bulldog Drummond it would have given the nod to Tony Betz, a no-nonsense former FBI agent who grew up in the hard streets of Philly.

Betz scared me spitless and I was sitting a dozen rows back from the podium.

Turn him loose and, as I wrote at the time, he “would probably wind up indicting half the council.”

But all that is as relevant as the Code of Hammurabi or Paula Abdul.

What’s done is done. Burnsy is our man.

My point is that – whether he’s empowered or not – no ombudsman is going to restore the public’s sagging confidence in the scandal-prone Spokane Police Department.

That job still belongs to one woman: Chief Anne Kirkpatrick.

Most folks I know, even the ones who lack confidence in the SPD, think highly of Kirkpatrick’s ethics and her ability to lead.

I believe her tough “you lie, you die” philosophy has done a lot to make the SPD a better police force.

But it remains to be seen whether Chief Anne will still attack her job with the same fervor as she did before Police Guild weasels sabotaged her effort to become Seattle’s top cop.

What a bunch of shameless back-shooters.

The Guild’s sham “no-confidence” vote had to have had a role in keeping Kirkpatrick out of the pool of finalists.

That must have hurt.

On the other hand, Seattle’s loss is Spokane’s gain.

Everybody with an IQ knows that the Guild vote was a politically timed hatchet job.

If Kirkpatrick sticks around maybe the Guild will now reap what it sowed.

I believe she has the confidence of the vast majority of SPD rank and file, who are honorable cops and committed to being the best peace officers they can be.

But they need to stand up for their chief. They need to shout down the corrupt elements that make the department look bad.

Don’t give up, Anne.

Kick ass, take names and keep striving to bring the SPD up to your high standards.

Do that and it won’t matter how much power the omdudsman has.

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

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