A five-member advisory board to give further oversight of the Spokane Police Department will include the former director of a human rights organization and a retired military official who most recently served at the Pentagon.
Voters approved the creation of the citizen oversight commission in early 2013, and members are expected to begin their work within a month, after they pass criminal background checks and the City Council officially approves their appointments.
The appointees are Rachel Dolezal, 36, former director of the Human Rights Education Institute in North Idaho and a professor at Eastern Washington University; Kevin Berkompas, 47, a retired Air Force colonel who advised former Soviet nations on reforming their defense institutions; Scott Richter, 45, community indicators project manager at EWU and former intern in the police ombudsman’s office; Debra Conklin, 61, a progressive activist and pastor at Liberty Park United Methodist Church; and Adrian Dominguez, 48, an epidemiologist at Spokane Regional Health District.
Dolezal and Berkompas were selected by the mayor as at-large commissioners. The remaining three were chosen by City Council members, each representing a council district.
The commission will provide independent oversight of the city’s police ombudsman, who reviews internal investigations into police misconduct. The ombudsman position was created following disclosure of the department’s sloppy and incomplete investigation into the role of its own officers in the fatal 2006 confrontation with Otto Zehm, who had been erroneously implicated in a theft and beaten, shocked with a Taser and hogtied by officers in a convenience store before dying in police custody.
The U.S. Justice Department later described the investigation as a departmental cover-up. Officer Karl Thompson was convicted by a federal jury of needlessly beating Zehm and lying about it.
With the creation of the commission, the new members said there was a chance to “heal relations between civilians and police.”
Dolezal said reform has been slow to come to the police department.
“Creating and launching the commission is an important step,” she said. “There has been a lot of talk, perhaps more talk than action.”
She added, “I’m hoping this will not just make people feel better, but also actually make things better.”
Berkompas said he wasn’t completely comfortable with his new public role, but he looked forward to working with his fellow commissioners.
“I’ve been following the news and I know how important this mission is to the community,” he said.
Representing his defense consulting company, Bear Compass, Berkompas earlier this year met with police Chief Frank Straub about providing business services to the police department, but nothing came of the conversation.
Brian Coddington, the mayor’s spokesman, said the city was looking for people “from different walks of life.”
Dominguez, of Mexican descent, said he fits that description.
“I’ve never been treated badly by the police department here, but I think there is that potential here,” he said. “People fear the police department. They don’t trust the police department. It will be our job to bridge the gap.”
Dominguez, who also applied to fill the City Council seat left empty by Steve Salvatori’s resignation, said he would take that seat if offered and resign from the ombudsman commission.
Conklin and Richter could not be reached for comment Friday.
Tim Burns, the current police ombudsman, was re-appointed earlier this year to a term ending in February 2015.
Other applicants to the commission include former Democratic County Chairman Tom Keefe; former West Central Neighborhood Council Chairman Kelly Cruz, who also has applied for Salvatori’s council seat; and Hillyard Neighborhood Council Chairman Luke Tolley, among others.
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