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.
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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
Complaint going to mayor
June 5, 2012 in City on Page A5 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 … 77
From the Spokane police chief
Interim police chief inherits challenge
Feb. 5, 2012 in City on Page A1 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 … 32
Body cameras considered for Spokane police officers
Jan. 27, 2012 in City on Page A1 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 … 64
Spokane leaders outline proposed police reforms
Jan. 26, 2012 in City, News 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 … 30
Council limits police reviews
Oct. 11, 2011 in City on Page A1 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 … 18
Council delays ombudsman vote
Sept. 29, 2011 in City on Page A7 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 … 1
Panel won’t overturn decision on police ombudsman’s powers
Sept. 15, 2011 in City on Page A5 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 … 5
Council debates oversight rules
Aug. 23, 2011 in City on Page A1 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 … 82
Council debates ombudsman appeal
Aug. 2, 2011 in City on Page A6 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 … 16
Council could change ombudsman rules
July 27, 2011 in City, News 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, … 6
Police ombudsman rules downgraded
July 13, 2011 in City on Page A1 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 … 26
Officer’s text message ruled a factor in pedestrian fatality
June 29, 2011 in City on Page A1 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 … 90
Law agencies see benefit of cameras
March 21, 2011 in City on Page A1 For police agencies, cameras that record officer encounters with the public can help prove suspects are guilty and set the record straight if officers are wrongly accused of misconduct. “It … 42
Complaints against police rose in 2010
Feb. 23, 2011 in City on Page A1 More citizens alleged misconduct by Spokane Police Department employees last year than the previous four years, but the number of complaints that resulted in discipline decreased. Police leaders attribute the … 29