In June 2010, the Spokane City Council granted police Ombudsman Tim Burns the power to investigate cases of officer misconduct.
Until then, Burns could only monitor the Spokane Police Department’s internal investigations into alleged wrongdoing by reviewing police reports and sitting in on detective interviews. If he believed that a police review was unfair or incomplete, Burns was limited to asking the chief or mayor to order further review or to withhold his stamp of approval from the official police review. Now he can conduct his own review as well as sit in on internal investigations.
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 September 2011, the state Public Employment Relations Commission rejected a request from the City Council to consider overturning the arbitrator’s decision blocking the expansion.
The council is weighing whether to repeal its expansion of the ombudsman investigative power, or to appeal the arbitrator’s decision.
Some nonprofit groups had criticized the limited role of the ombudsman, saying a stronger ombudsman who could investigate cases independently would create trust between citizens and officers.
Shortly after she became Spokane’s new police chief in 2006, Anne Kirkpatrick hired Seattle lawyer Sam Pailca to recommend a new oversight system for Spokane. After a series of public meetings, Pailca wrote a report recommending a full-time, professional ombudsman to replace Spokane’s defunct, all-volunteer Citizens Review Commission. That commission had little real power and no staff or budget, and it had not reviewed a misconduct case in a decade.
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.
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.”
Updated Sept. 29, 2011.
By content type
Latest updates in this topic
Shawn Vestal: Strong Spokane council blasts mayor’s weak arguments for police deal
Nov. 13, 2013 in City on Page A5 Welcome to the strong council system of government. The Spokane City Council acted quickly and without equivocation Monday in rejecting the mayor’s failed effort at negotiating an acceptable contract with … 201
Spokane council rejects proposed police contract
Nov. 11, 2013 in City 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 … 86
Spokane Police Guild approves contract with city
Nov. 2, 2013 in City on Page A1 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. … 209
Center for Justice calls oversight in proposed city, police union contract ‘a travesty’
Oct. 18, 2013 in City on Page A5 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 … 78
Spokane City Council pares down police oversight ordinance
Oct. 8, 2013 in City on Page A6 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 … 29
Spokane police force hires fraud investigator
Aug. 16, 2013 in City on Page A5 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 … 75
City settles lawsuit with man injured by police in 2008
Spokane police ombudsman asking for inquests
Feb. 27, 2013 in City on Page A5 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 … 38
Spokane voters approve library tax
Ombudsman power in the mail for vote
Council members want police ombudsman in city charter
Nov. 16, 2012 in City on Page A5 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 … 12
Bland recipe for oversight of police may be all we get
Nov. 10, 2012 in City on Page B1 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 … 29
More police officer oversight sought
Nov. 2, 2012 in City on Page A5 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 … 42
Spokane’s first police ombudsman’s term extended
Oct. 23, 2012 in City on Page A5 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 … 6
Burns to stay longer as Police Ombudsman
Doug Clark: Discrepancies abound in ombudsman criteria
Aug. 19, 2012 in City on Page B1 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. 15
Council may fight ombudsman move
Aug. 18, 2012 in City on Page A1 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 … 6
Police ombudsman to depart in October
Aug. 16, 2012 in City on Page A1 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 … 39
Chief OKs conduct probe
June 15, 2012 in City on Page A5 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. … 9
SPD needs new tack to earn citizenry’s trust
June 6, 2012 in City on Page A5 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” … 16