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Spokane City Council rejects police deal, citing inadequate officer oversight

The Spokane City Council rejected a new labor contract with the police union that failed to give an ombudsman the power to conduct independent investigations into police wrongdoing.

The 7-0 Monday vote fulfills a council promise and brushes aside Mayor David Condon’s deal with the Spokane Police Guild. The council demanded a tougher pact that includes ombudsman powers that voters approved at the polls in February: Give an ombudsman powers to investigate rather than rely on the practice of having police officers investigate other police officers.

The bargaining teams will negotiate again, and council members said they hope the guild accepts the call for stronger ombudsman authority.

“We are not there yet, and we need to take this step,” Councilman Jon Snyder said prior to voting against the contract.

Councilman Mike Allen said the tentative agreement “does not rise to what the citizens voted on.”

Condon said he was disappointed by the council vote. The tentative deal created sufficient ombudsman independence through a separate citizen commission, he said. The guild had accepted that change in the contract proposal.

Condon and police Chief Frank Straub were concerned that any evidence from an outside investigation by the ombudsman could not be used later for internal discipline of an officer.

The mayor also said the tentative agreement allowed the commission to order an investigation, and the ombudsman would have made separate, independent findings.

The mayor’s bargain also included outfitting officers with body cameras, pay raises for police and the hiring of 25 new officers next year.

It all pointed toward progress for better policing, he said.

That’s now in jeopardy if bargaining reopens, Condon said.

The city risks having to go to binding arbitration with its police force and take what an arbiter awards.

The police guild’s attorney, in a recent letter, said that the issue of having someone other than a police officer investigate possible wrongdoing by other police officers must be bargained and approved by the union.

Councilman Steve Salvatori said he wanted assurances from the guild that it would not challenge independent power for the ombudsman.

The guild, apparently, is not willing to do that.

Councilwoman Amber Waldref said, “I think it is unfortunate we couldn’t get to that place. I think it is unfortunate we were put in this position.”

The tentative agreement, approved earlier by guild members, was added to the council agenda Monday afternoon after council members spent 30 minutes huddling with their attorneys in private session.

Asked about the surprise vote, Council President Ben Stuckart said: “We’ve been waiting long enough.”

Just prior to the vote, Stuckart said he did not want the city to be stuck with an unfavorable contract for the next few years.

Erin Jacobson, an assistant city attorney who worked on the negotiations, told council members that the guild was unwilling to approve any changes regarding ombudsman powers.

One issue is whether the ombudsman would be allowed to conduct “non-disciplinary investigations” outside of the internal affairs process. The contract agreement did not give the ombudsman that power.

In a related matter, the mayor said a team of a half dozen experts from the U.S. Department of Justice will be in Spokane next week to review the department’s use of force investigations, department culture, and the ombudsman’s role.

The tentative contract had called for 2 percent salary increases annually from the start of 2012, when the previous contract expired, through the start of 2015, plus monetary benefits for college education.

The cost of the contract was $1.8 million in additional salary at the end of four years, not counting the education benefits.

Councilman Mike Fagan in an interview said that he voted no for more than one reason. He wants an independent ombudsman, but also believed the salary increases were “too fat. It’s too rich. As far as I’m concerned I think the Police Guild owes the citizens of Spokane.”

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