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Condon asks Police Guild for contract changes

Spokane Mayor David Condon is heeding the advice of Spokane City Council members who have pushed him to reopen contract negotiations with the Spokane Police Guild.

The mayor and guild agreed to a tentative four-year labor contract last fall, but that deal was rejected by the City Council in November. It was nearly rejected a second time in December before the council opted to delay a vote until Feb. 3.

City officials confirmed this week that administrators have sent proposed changes to the proposed contract to the mediator working with the city and guild. Condon met in a private session with the City Council on Monday to talk about negotiations with the guild. City spokesman Brian Coddington said he could not provide details on the city’s most recent proposal.

Early this year, City Council President Ben Stuckart sent a letter to Condon urging him to reopen negotiations to spare the council from rejecting the deal again.

Spokane police watchdog reappointed, details jump in internal complaints

Last night was a big one for Tim Burns, the Spokane Police ombudsman.

He was reappointed for another one-year term, setting him off on his fifth year as the civilian watchdog for Spokane police. Burns was appointed for a three-year term in 2009 by then-Mayor Mary Verner. His one year extension last night came from Mayor David Condon and a unanimous vote by the City Council.

Burns also unveiled his 2013 mid-year report, which contained some surprising numbers.

First, of the 142 complaints against the department in the first six months of the year, 75 were classified as formal. Of those 75, 15 came from within the department. This is a huge jump when compared to the same time period last year, when just three complaints were internally generated, of 46 total complaints.

Burns told the City Council the increase was notable, but he was unable to say what might be driving the change. 

Burns also noted a decrease in taser use by police, which happened 14 times in 11 incidents this year. In the first six months of 2012, a taser was used 25 times in 21 incidents.

Finally, Burns said he was concerned by the increase in SWAT activations. In the first half of 2012, SWAT was called out 21 times. This year, it happened 29 times.

Check out the whole report on the ombudsman's website, or read it here.

Spokane hosts national ombudsman conference

With the future of Spokane's police ombudsman program in question, the city soon will be awash in government ombudsmen (and women) arriving for an international conference on public oversight.

The United States Ombudsman Association is gathering in Spokane for its 33rd annual conference Oct. 8 to 12 at the Red Lion Inn at the Park. Training opportunities include a session on conducting independent investigations, which is a hot-button issue in Spokane where the police ombudsman is prohibited from investigating allegations of police misconduct.

Spokane's office of Police Ombudsman is hosting the conference. Last month, Spokane Mayor David Condon stunned the City Council and others by announcing the departure of the city's first police ombudsman, Tim Burns, whose contract is expiring and wasn't being renewed. Condon later asked Burns to stay through the end of the year.

Among the reasons Condon gave for avoiding a new contract for Burns is that the city could be changing the way it oversees police conduct after the mayor's Use of Force Commission completes its study of the police department.

Chief OKs probe into alleged misconduct

Spokane County Jail inmate Justin Anest is pictured in 2006. He filed a federal civil rights lawsuit for a 2004 beating in the county jail. He claims to have been beaten again over the weekend in September 2006. The lawsuit was dismissed. Anest filed the complant that led to the dispute between the ombdusman and interim police chief. (SRarchives)

A disagreement between the interim Spokane police chief and the ombudsman about how a police misconduct allegation should be investigated has been resolved after witnesses came forward with new information.

A meeting scheduled last Friday between Interim Chief Scott Stephens, Ombudsman Tim Burns and Mayor David Condon never happened because Stephens informed Condon of his intention to investigate the accusation that police bruised a woman’s arms while handcuffing her at her home in early April.

Read the rest of my story here, which includes comment from the complanient, Justin Anest, and information on his background.

Police Guild promises to negotiate in good faith for reform

Spokane Police Guild officials announced in a news release Monday that the union “embraces” a police reform resolution that the Spokane City Council is likely to approve tonight.

“The Guild wants to thank the Council members for recognizing that many of the steps presented in the resolution may affect the working conditions of represented employees and would need to be negotiated with the affected unions,” the news release said. “The City Council can expect the Guild to negotiate in good faith.”

The guild agreed to the city's first rules that created the police ombudsman but successfully challenged an update to the job's powers last year. The resolution in front of City Council tonight calls not only for the reinstatement of the ombudsman's independent oversight powers, but for the police chief to be able to use ombudsman reports when considering discipline.

Interim Police Chief Scott Stephens has said he would support the upgraded ombudsman rules.

“I believe the officers actually developed kind of a favorable opinion of that (the stronger police ombudsman ordinance that was repealed). The guild of course is taking a look at this and just saying, 'We don't have objections to that in principle. Again we just want to make sure that if you're going to do this we want to be at the table.' They felt like things were being done to them without their input and I think that's why they threw the roadblock up there.”

A call to Guild President Erinie Wuthrich was not immediately returned.

Coalition calls on candidates to take ombudsman pledge

A coalition of organizations including the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane is asking Spokane mayoral and City Council candidates to pledge not to vote for a Spokane Police Guild contract unless it includes stronger oversight.

The guild's contract expires at the end of the year and is under negotiation currently.

Earlier this month, the City Council repealed its 2010 police oversight law at the demand of an arbitrator, who ruled that it violated the guild's contract. The law gave Ombudsman Tim Burns the right to investigate allegations of police misconduct separately from the police department's internal affairs division.

The city is now operating under its 2008 police ombudsman rules.

Those who voted to repeal the law said the best way to obtain the provisions in the 2010 law are win guild approval of them through negotiations. Some council member said they would be unlikely to vote for guild contract unless the extra oversight is included in it.

League Director Liz Moore said pledge supporters will give candidates until the end of the week to decide if they will sign the pledge. Results will be publicized early next week.


Documents:

City Council limits ombudsman powers

Spokane’s police ombudsman on Monday lost the power to independently investigate misconduct allegations against the city’s law enforcement officers.

The Spokane City Council voted 5-2 Monday to repeal police oversight rules it approved unanimously last year, blaming an arbitrator’s decision in July that determined the expanded powers violated the Spokane Police Guild’s labor contract.

Read the rest of Jon Brunt's story here.

Past coverage:

Aug. 23: Council debates police oversight rules

July 13: Police ombudsman rules downgraded

Council hires second attorney to defend police ombudsman rules

The Spokane City Council isn’t giving up on stronger police oversight, at least not for two more weeks.

The council voted 6-0 this week to delay action on the possible repeal of the city’s 2010 police ombudsman law to give it time to hire an outside attorney to analyze the possible appeal of an arbitrator’s July decision demanding that the city remove the ordinance.

The law, which strengthened the city’s original ombudsman rules from 2008, gave Ombudsman Tim Burns the power to investigate accusations of police misconduct separately from the police department’s own reviews. 

City council looks at police oversight

Spokane City Council members suggested they may need voters to save the stronger police oversight rules they approved last year, by working to place the concept on the ballot.

Passions were high during the council’s Monday meeting as they discussed overturning police oversight rules. The debate included a few shouting matches between attendees and Council President Joe Shogan.

Read the rest of Jon Brunt's story here.

Past coverage:

July 13: Police ombudsman rules downgraded

As city deals with more revelations in Zehm case, Verner campaign points to ombudsman

Mayor Mary Verner latest campaign newsletter picks a topic fresh in the news: police oversight.

Last week, Verner's campaign stressed her support for creating a police ombudsman position at City Hall. The week before, a filing in federal court detailed the position of Assistant Police Chief Jim Nicks related to the death of Otto Zehm, who died in police custody in 2006. Nicks has told federal investigators that Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. violated department use-of-force policies and that detectives failed to thoroughly investigate Zehm's death.

Verner has indeed been on record supporting the creation of the position for some time, but she hasn't always pushed for the kind of independent, full-time ombudsman that was envisioned in a 2007 report commissioned by the city.

In 2008, Verner said that instead of hiring a full-time ombudsman, she planned to contract out for an ombudsman on an as-needed basis because of the city's budget problems.

In a meeting with journalists in March 2008, Verner explained that a full-time ombudsman wasn't necessary.

“I don’t really think that we need an in-house, full-time employee for an ombudsman,” Verner told reporters. “I really believe that with Chief (Anne) Kirkpatrick’s leadership and the evolving good working relationship between the guild and the chief that we would have a Maytag Repairman on our hands.”

Verner's position, however, had changed when she unveiled her 2009 budget plan, which included money for a full-time ombudsman, and her newsletter is correct that she conducted a nationwide search in an open process when she hired Ombudsman Tim Burns.

Since Burns started work, some council members pushed to give Burns the power to conduct investigations separately from police. Verner initially opposed that effort, and said that it was too soon to change Burns' powers and that doing so would require negotiations with the Spokane Police Guild.

Verner argued that during an economic downturn, her goals for Police Guild negotiations were for concessions to save jobs and service over gaining more police oversight authority. Verner signed the ordinance boosting Burns' authority after the council passed it unanimously. Next week, the council will consider revoking the ordinance in response to an arbitrator who ruled that the city should have negotiated the rules with the guild.

That action, along with the ongoing federal case against Thompson, will keep police oversight one of the top issues of the campaign even after Tuesday's primary.

Today’s prediction: Fireworks ahead on ombudsman

This doesn't take a crystal ball or Karnak the Great: The city of Spokane and some of its citizens groups are headed for a heated fight over the current police ombudsman's ordinance.

The Center for Justice and others today are urging the city to appeal a recent arbitrator's decision that the expanded powers for the ombudsman had to be negotiated with the Police Guild. The council, meanwhile, is considering whether to repeal the 2010 ordinance that expanded those powers and go back to the previous configuration.

Read the full story about it here.

Police ombudsman rules downgraded

An arbitrator this week revoked a law that strengthened Spokane’s police ombudsman powers because the city did not consult the Spokane Police Guild before it was approved last year.

The decision by arbitrator Michael H. Beck effectively reverses rules that strengthened the ability of police Ombudsman Tim Burns to investigate alleged officer misconduct independently of police. The opinion was dated Monday; the city received it Tuesday.

The power to examine police wrongdoing separate from the police department’s own investigators is a change in working conditions that must be negotiated with the guild, Beck ruled.

Read the rest of the story here.

Past coverage:

June 29: Spokane police ombudsman gains power

Vote gives SPD ombudsman more power

Almost a year after he was hired, Spokane’s police ombudsman on Monday was granted the power to investigate cases of officer misconduct.

The Spokane City Council voted unanimously to increase the ombudsman’s authority after the third hearing on the topic in two months.

Kiondra Bullock, executive director of VOICES, a group that advocates for low-income people, called the council’s decision “historic.”

“We still have a long way to go, but we are extremely encouraged by the changes here tonight,” she said.

Read the rest of Jonathan Brunt’s story here.

Police Ombudsman to get additional powers…

Good morning, Netizens…


Well, bless my heart! The City Council voted unanimously in favor of giving the Tim Burns, Police Ombudsman, additional autonomous powers last night.


Until last night, the Police Ombudsman only had the authority to observe and report on police reports and sitting in on detective interviews. If he believed that a police review was unfair or incomplete, he could file a complaint with the Mayor or Chief of Police. Now he can conduct his own review of cases, sitting in on internal investigations.


The Police Guild will probably challenge the City Ordinance in court, because such ordinances would have to be approved by the Guild, and based upon my limited experience, they do not want the public knowing what are in those reports and investigations.


Hitch up your tighty-whiteys if you have them and watch closely. If Tim Burns does his job, and I believe he is committed to it, perhaps we may see an end to the travesties on the part of the Police Department, cases such as Otto Zehm, where Police clearly exceeded their authority. That isn’t to say they won’t exceed the law, but at least under the new system the Police Ombudsman will have the power to bring justice for ordinary people to the equation, something that has been missing for far too damned long, in my opinion.


Now I will sit down and stop rocking the boat. I will wait to see how the Police Guild will react. As the New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra once stated, “It ain’t over until it’s over”.


Dave

SPD ombudsman wants investigatory power

The Spokane City Council is scheduled tonight to consider allowing police Ombudsman Tim Burns to gather information on his own, separately from the Police Department’s Internal Affairs division, when Burns disagrees with the police chief’s decision that no further investigation into alleged misconduct is needed.

Last week, Burns said he now believes that the ability to gather his own information and conduct interviews would help give his office needed credibility.

Read Jonathan Brunt’s story here.

Weekend recreation

Spokane’s police ombudsman has launched a website, which you can link to here.

Meanwhile, feel free to post comments about the concerns that occupy your mind over what’s predicted to be a glorious weekend.

See you Monday.

Memo delays council’s ombudsman vote

Two dozen people urged the Spokane City Council to let the city police ombudsman listen to someone other than police about police misconduct, but a confidential legal memo stood in the way Monday.

Councilman Bob Apple was the lone opponent of an effort to delay for a month any decision on his proposal to let ombudsman Tim Burns conduct his own investigations into complaints of police misconduct.

Read the rest of John Craig’s story here.

A Show of hands if you will, please…

Good afternoon, Netizens…


Tonight’s City Council Meeting promises to be interesting, and that is putting it mildly. City Councilman Bob Apple has brought forth a proposal to change the terms under which the current Spokane Police Ombudsman operates, giving him new powers and the authority to perform his own investigations when circumstances dictate. Unfortunately I will be unable to attend this important meeting due to certain family events which will keep me working late into the evening.


Before I truly get this apple cart rolling (pun intended), my vision of the Spokane Police Department’s Guild is perhaps a bit naive as I am inexperienced in how they operate, but I have a great deal of angst about the incredible power they possess. I believe it is time for change. I believe that the Guild should be accountable to the people, and yet I see no way for this to happen without creating anxiety on everyone’s part. In the current configuration, if the Guild opposes an investigation into the actions of a police officer, it is my experience that true justice can fall by the wayside. One case in point that comes readily to mind is the investigation into the shooting of Shonto Pete. If there ever was a silent scream for justice in this town, I don’t know how else to express it.


No one, not even the Spokane Police Department Guild, should ever be allowed to operate outside the law, and they should be accountable to the voters.


Now while I am opening up a few of what might be termed my crackerjack ideas, I perceive that one of the failures of the Ombudsman’s Office is that he, also, should be accountable to the voters. That, of course, opens up yet another can of worms which not only would create administrative nightmares, but perhaps violate the law.


Giving the Ombudsman the authority to investigate police cases and citizen’s complaints on his own is a good first step toward restoring public trust in our police. The Police Guild may not like it. I’m not certain whether Police Chief Kirkpatrick would support the changes to the Ombudsman’s powers.


More than anything else, it will be interesting to see who speaks out against Bob Apple’s proposal. Mark your ballots for the next election appropriately.


Dave

Council to consider SPD ombudsman boost

An effort to expand the powers of the city of Spokane’s police ombudsman may go before the City Council tonight.

The proposed ordinance would allow Ombudsman Tim Burns to go beyond simply observing internal police probes and allow him to publish reports on those investigations – with a few exceptions – and contact the people who make complaints against police officers. He would also be allowed to interview witnesses of the incidents that led to complaints.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse’s story here.

Police ombudsman submits first report

The first 18 of 19 internal investigations into police actions to be reviewed by Spokane’s police ombudsman have been labeled “timely, thorough and objective.”

Spokane’s first police ombudsman, Tim Burns, released data about his first few months on the job this week as part of his annual report to City Council.

Read Jonathan Brunt’s story here.

Ombudsman protest planned

Groups who think the city isn’t going far enough to provide oversight of its Police Department will be protesting Friday in advance of a series of “meet the ombudsman candidates” forums.

And they have a special guest protester: Shonto Pete, the Spokane man who was shot in the head by Police Officer Jay Olsen in that strange incident that started in the parking lot of Dempseys Brass Rail and ended in (not so) Peaceful Valley.

They think the city’s plan for an ombudsman falls short because the office doesn’t have independent investigative powers.

Pete, some of his family, along with Sovereignty, Health, Air, Water, Land (SHAWL) Society; NAACP, Spokane Chapter; Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane; Progressive Democrats of America, Spokane Chapter; EWU MEChA; Medicine Wheel Academy, will be setting up at the Chase Gallery in City Hall at noon Friday.

Ombudsman forums will be held Friday and Saturday. Click here for the schedule.

Police ombudsman forums this weekend

The City of Spokane will hold public forums for its police ombudsman finalists on Friday and Saturday.

There are three prospects:

Anthony Betz, of College Station, Tex., a retired FBI agent working as an adjunct professor at Texas A&M University.

Timothy Burns, of Visalia, Calif., a retired police officer working as the neighborhood preservation manager for that city.

Greg Weber, of Spokanean attorney in private practice who once  served on Washington State Attorney General’s staff.

Forums are scheduled for:

  • 5 p.m. Friday in the Chase Gallery in the lower level of City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.
  • 10 a.m. Saturday at West Central Community Center, 1603 N. Belt.
  • 2 p.m. Saturday at East Central Community Center, 500 S. Stone.