Independence of ombudsman still unresolved
The Spokane Police Guild has approved a tentative contract with the city that calls for 8 percent in salary increases over four years, including retroactive pay dating to the expiration of their last contract at the start of 2012.
But the agreement may fall short of satisfying a voter-mandated call for greater independence of the city’s police ombudsman, City Council members said.
The Guild takes the position that the proposed contract provides for the independence sought by voters through creation of a Police Ombudsman Commission to oversee ombudsman investigations.
The agreement calls for 2 percent salary increases annually from the start of 2012 through the start of 2015. It increases employee contributions for medical coverage starting next year, which reduces the overall cost of the salary increases by 1 to 2 percent. The agreement also provides incentives for continuing education.
The cost of the salary increase is about $450,000 a year for each of the four years, not counting the give back on health care premiums. The cumulative total is about $1.8 million by the end of 2015 when the proposed contract would expire.
The contract now goes to the City Council, which is holding meetings to take public comment starting on Nov. 13.
Mayor David Condon said he is disappointed that he could not send to the council a tentative agreement that matches up with proposals being considered by the City Council to give the ombudsman greater investigative independence.
“Frankly, my patience is wearing thin,” he said Friday.
Condon said he wants the ombudsman issue resolved through agreement with the Guild so that the matter does not end up in lengthy litigation.
But the agreement faces an uphill road before a skeptical City Council.
Council President Ben Stuckart said he will vote no on the tentative contract agreement because it includes unsatisfactory language governing the ombudsman.
“The minute we approve that TA (tentative agreement) we are locked in on it,” he said.
Representatives from the Guild, the mayor’s office and City Council had been trying to reach an agreement in recent weeks on the ombudsman’s power, but last-minute concerns from a Guild attorney stalled the negotiations.
Condon said a police review by the U.S. Department of Justice will look at the question of independent police oversight.
Councilman Steve Salvatori said he is not willing to approve a contract without an agreement on an independent ombudsman that meets the language of a charter amendment approved by 69 percent of voters last February.
He said he would prefer a locally crafted solution to police oversight rather than having federal authorities possibly impose one.
The council in October approved the new citizen Police Ombudsman Commission. That is one of the major changes sought from the original ombudsman system established in 2008. Creation of the commission is considered an important concession by the Guild. The Guild also agreed to let the commission open or reopen investigations. The agreement has a 180-day time limit on all investigations.
The key unresolved issue centers on the ombudsman’s ability to conduct non-disciplinary investigations outside of the department’s internal affairs process. The agreement does not provide for such investigations. But one line in the agreement says “the ombudsman will not conduct separate disciplinary investigations…”
The makeup of the committee used to select the ombudsman is at still issue, Stuckart said.
The tentative agreement calls for a five-member body with one member being appointed each by the Guild, the lieutenants and captains association, the mayor’s office and City Council. The fifth member would be chosen by those four.
The choice of the fifth member is a sticking point since the two police department representatives effectively could block the selection of the fifth member. The City Council proposal has the ombudsman commission chair filling the fifth selection committee seat.
Guild President John Gately said he believes officers are agreeing to a series of provisions that will improve oversight and the quality of police service.
He said independence is created by establishing the ombudsman commission.
He also said the current oversight system has succeeded in resolving oversight questions over the past four years.
An educational benefit brings Spokane up to date with what’s offered by other departments and will put Spokane in a competitive position to hire officers from other departments, he said. That will reduce training time when the department adds a proposed 25 new officers next year, he said.
In addition, the contract calls for establishing a policy through negotiations on the use of police body cameras, including the question of privacy for victims, witnesses and others who are recorded on video, Gately said.
The City Council in September approved spending $730,000 for the cameras.
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