Police ombudsman


Tim Burns was hired in 2009 as Spokane’s police ombudsman.

Citizen pressure for a new oversight system for the Spokane Police Department originally mounted after several high-profile incidents, including the 2006 death of Otto Zehm, a mentally disabled man who died after he was Tasered and beaten by police officers.

Under state labor law, the office had to be negotiated with the city’s police unions, which have been working on it since last fall. The Spokane Police Guild membership still had to approve it, which they did in an official vote in June 2008.

An ordinance creating the ombudsman position was aired at a council hearing in September 2008. The council unanimously backed it that October. In February 2009, the search to fill the position began.

The Spokane Police Guild endorsed Tim Burns, a retired police officer from California, in the less powerful role, and the City Council hired Burns in June 2009.

Burns’ first report as ombudsman came in April 2010, when he concluded 18 of 19 internal investigations into police actions were “timely, thorough and objective.”

In June 2010, the Spokane City Council granted police Ombudsman Tim Burns the power to investigate cases of officer misconduct. But in July 2011, a labor arbitrator demanded the city repeal the council’s ordinance strengthening ombudsman powers because the city did not consult the Spokane Police Guild before approving the change.

In 2013, Spokane voters passed proposition 1, which granted the ombudsman powers to independently investigate police misconduct. The city reached an agreementwith the police union several months later about those powers, but many supporters of police oversight said the new contract did not give the ombudsman enough power to conduct a truly independent investigation.

The city ordinance also called for a five-member citizen commission to oversee the ombudsman’s office. Commissioners were seated in the fall of 2014. Burns resigned several months later, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.

A city investigation into alleged harassment by several commission members revealed Burns had left in part because he found some commissioners difficult to work with. The investigation led to the resignation of commissioners Adrian Dominguez and Kevin Berkompas, and the removal of chair Rachel Dolezal. New commissioners were appointed in the summer of 2015, and the commission began meeting again in August.

The city began a search for a new police ombudsman in early 2015, and forwarded names of three finalist candidates to the commission in July. Commissioners repeatedly criticized the selection committee for not selecting interim ombudsman candidates or doing more thourough vetting of finalists.

A lifelong Florida law enforcement officer, Robert Breeden, was the apparent front-runner for a new ombudsman after community itnerviews, but commissioners held off on hiring him in September 2015 until a background investigation can be completed.

The long vacancy in the ombudsman office has led to talk among commissioners and city council members of revamping the ombudsman’s office to make it easier for someone to fill in for the ombudsman in case of illness, vacation or resignation.

Updated Oct. 23, 2015.

Latest updates in this topic

  • Spokane council rejects proposed police contract

    The Spokane City Council this afternoon made good on a promise to reject any proposed labor contract with the police department that lacks union acceptance of independent investigative authority for …

  • Spokane Police Guild approves contract with city

    A tentative labor contract for the Spokane police union appears dead on arrival in City Council chambers because it fails to embrace the recent voter-approved mandate about investigating officer wrongdoing. …

  • Center for Justice calls oversight in proposed city, police union contract ‘a travesty’

    Public-interest law firm the Center for Justice has seen a copy of the tentative labor contract between Spokane and its police union and called the provisions for oversight of the …

  • Spokane City Council pares down police oversight ordinance

    Spokane City Council members voted unanimously Monday to create a new citizen Police Ombudsman Commission to oversee future investigations of officer misconduct and police performance. Council members backed away from …

  • Spokane police force hires fraud investigator

    A fraud investigator from the federal public defender’s office has joined the Spokane Police Department to focus on improving the city’s seizures of drug assets, implementing new laws legalizing marijuana …

  • City settles lawsuit with man injured by police in 2008

    The city of Spokane has agreed to pay $49,500 to a guest of the Davenport Hotel who suffered shoulder injuries when he was tackled by police in 2008. Charles J. …

  • Spokane police ombudsman asking for inquests

    Cases where people die at the hands of police officers should be examined in a public forum, Spokane Police Ombudsman Tim Burns says in his annual report. Burns made the …

  • Spokane voters approve library tax

    Spokane voters easily approved a City Charter amendment giving the police ombudsman more authority and a tax to ensure that branch libraries won’t close.

  • Ombudsman power in the mail for vote

    The Spokane City Council has tried several times over the past two decades to craft a police oversight system with teeth. Now it’s the citizens’ turn.

  • Council members want police ombudsman in city charter

    City officials have a new strategy to achieve independent police oversight after multiple failed attempts: Let the voters decide. Spokane City Council members Steve Salvatori and Mike Allen want to …

  • Bland recipe for oversight of police may be all we get

    Here’s where we stand, in terms of policing the police: One of the most hopeful signs about the latest proposal for true independent oversight is that it’s all bark and …

  • More police officer oversight sought

    Advocates of greater police accountability are again pushing to give Spokane’s police ombudsman independent investigative authority. The Center for Justice presented a proposed ordinance during a news conference Thursday, noting …

  • Spokane’s first police ombudsman’s term extended

    Spokane’s first police ombudsman will keep his job for another year. Mayor David Condon decided in August against renewing Ombudsman Tim Burns’ three-year contract. The move angered some City Council …

  • Burns to stay longer as Police Ombudsman

    The city announced today that Spokane Mayor David Condon will extend the contract of Police Ombudsman Tim Burns until the end of the year. He previously was set to leave …

  • Doug Clark: Discrepancies abound in ombudsman criteria

    The bombshell caught Spokane by surprise. Mayor David Condon says he WON’T renew Tim Burns’ contract as the city’s so-called police ombudsman. The mayor is not without a heart, however.

  • Council may fight ombudsman move

    The Spokane City Council appears ready to challenge Mayor David Condon’s decision to dismiss the city’s first police ombudsman. Tim Burns, who helped pioneer Spokane’s still-fledgling police oversight program, was …

  • Police ombudsman to depart in October

    Spokane’s first police ombudsman will soon be out of a job, and the city may be without a permanent replacement for several months. Mayor David Condon has decided not to …

  • Chief OKs conduct probe

    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. …

  • SPD needs new tack to earn citizenry’s trust

    We’re in the “show me” phase of the city’s relationship with the police department. So it’s a problem that the interim chief seems to think we’re still in “trust us” …

  • Complaint going to mayor

    A disagreement between the interim Spokane police chief and the police ombudsman about the handling of a recent complaint is getting the mayor’s attention. Ombudsman Tim Burns is asking Mayor …

  • From the Spokane police chief

    Interim Spokane police Chief Scott Stephens weighs in on some issues facing the department.

  • Interim police chief inherits challenge

    Scott Stephens was taught by his father to respect everyone and never to lay hands on someone in anger, Spokane’s interim police chief said. That’s why it was hard for …

  • Body cameras considered for Spokane police officers

    Spokane’s elected leaders are ready to push for the use of body cameras on police officers to record their interactions with the public. The Spokane City Council on Feb. 6 …

  • Spokane leaders outline proposed police reforms

    The Spokane City Council has unveiled its list of proposed police reforms, including body cameras for officers, restored independent investigative authority for the police ombudsman and posting internal affairs investigations …

  • Council limits police reviews

    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 …

  • Council delays ombudsman vote

    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 a decision on whether …

  • Panel won’t overturn decision on police ombudsman’s powers

    Efforts to expand the Spokane police ombudsman’s authority to conduct independent investigations into alleged officer misconduct have suffered another blow. The state Public Employment Relations Commission has not only rejected …

  • Council debates oversight rules

    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 …

  • Council debates ombudsman appeal

    The Spokane City Council appears headed for a showdown over whether to appeal a decision limiting the powers of the city’s police ombudsman. The mention of a proposed ordinance accepting …

  • Council could change ombudsman rules

    Three Spokane groups are urging the City of Spokane to challenge an arbitrator’s ruling that the police ombudsman’s authority was improperly expanded. But the council could go the other way, …

  • 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 …

  • Officer’s text message ruled a factor in pedestrian fatality

    A Spokane police officer who hit and killed an intoxicated pedestrian in his patrol car in January was typing a message into his onboard computer just before the crash. Officer …





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