The president of the union representing Spokane’s police brass pushed back Thursday on comments made by City Councilman Breean Beggs about a proposal that would allow the city to post some internal affairs and officer-involved shooting investigations online.
Sgt. John Griffin, the president of the Spokane Police Guild, said Beggs spoke out of turn Monday while explaining why a council vote on the proposed ordinance had been postponed by two weeks.
Beggs said that he and guild members had differing recollections of how the city had publicized internal investigations in the past, and the vote was postponed until July 23 to give the city’s IT department time to retrieve deleted webpages where investigative records had been uploaded.
“I have a memory of it, but rather than rely on our memories, we’ll go back and get the full cache from the website,” Beggs said Monday. “My recollection is they posted the full investigations.”
On Thursday, Beggs said comments from guild leadership had been relayed to him by the city’s legal counsel, which is taking part in police contract negotiations that have dragged on for more than a year.
But Griffin said Beggs had mischaracterized those discussions, and that guild leaders hadn’t spoken about the city’s former practice of uploading full internal investigations for the public to see. That practice ended in spring 2016, and since then, the city has instead posted two-page summaries that describe the nature of complaints but do not name the complainants or the accused police department employees.
“It certainly wasn’t said by anyone in the guild leadership,” Griffin said. “I know we’ve never made a comment like that.”
In an email, Griffin added: “I won’t pretend to speak for Councilman Beggs, and certainly won’t talk to other people on the council and attribute their views or understanding on a matter as his or (those of) any organization he represents. I would appreciate the same courtesy in return.”
Beggs admitted he may have misunderstood or conflated comments made during Public Safety Committee meetings by police higher-ups who are not represented by the guild.
“Regardless, we are trying to confirm at the city the extent of what was published before (the change in 2016),” Beggs said. “That’s the overall goal, to match what was done before.”
The ordinance would give those requesting records of internal affairs matters, officer-involved shootings and uses of force by police the option of having the information posted directly to the city’s website, rather than receiving them as individuals.
Beggs has said the ordinance would save the city time and money in cases in which multiple people request the same report, and would provide greater transparency than the short summaries currently available. He stressed that records officers still would redact certain names and other sensitive information in accordance with state law.
Chief Craig Meidl has said he opposes the measure, and Griffin said Thursday he didn’t think it would be popular among the department’s rank and file.
“I haven’t done an audit of the membership, but I can’t imagine why any of the members would be for it,” Griffin said, adding that it would be unreasonable for the city to publish investigations in which complaints are determined to be unfounded.
“At some point, to me, it seems that transparency like that becomes voyeuristic,” he said.
Beggs said his proposal has been undergoing revisions for about a year. In April, the guild sent a letter to the city demanding that the proposal be subject to bargaining, but Beggs said the City Council could vote on the measure at any time. Asked if the vote would be postponed again, Beggs said “it depends what we hear back from our IT people.”
Throughout the contract negotiations, the guild has clashed with the police ombudsman’s office over requests for access to an internal affairs database and unredacted body camera footage. Yet Griffin said officers are not opposed to accountability measures. He said the guild should play a role in vetting Beggs’ proposal.
“It’s frustrating to me when it’s characterized as us standing in the way of progress,” he said.