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
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
Shawn Vestal: Ombudsman shows aptitude for his job, however defined
Long wait by armed driver also at issue
Jan. 25, 2011 in City on Page A12 Spokane Police Ombudsman Tim Burns also declined to certify an investigation regarding a driver who had a permit to own a handgun but was given the gun back in pieces … 8
Use-of-force case leaves questions
Jan. 25, 2011 in City on Page A1 Brian Greear remembers the sirens that prompted him to stop his car. But the 27-year-old Spokane man says he can’t remember what happened before he awoke face down in a … 63
Recent police shootings raise notion of inquests
Dec. 19, 2010 in City on Page A1 Nearly four months after their father was shot to death by a deputy sheriff in Spokane Valley, sons of Wayne Scott Creach are still looking for answers. Police detectives investigating … 70
Verner takes lead in longevity
Nov. 27, 2010 in City on Page A1 In the decade since Spokane began electing strong mayors, none had served more than three years – until this week. Mayor Mary Verner didn’t even need to finish her term … 27
ACLU argues city denied rights
Sept. 23, 2010 in City on Page A5 The American Civil Liberties Union says the Spokane city attorney’s office violated the constitutional rights of a local attorney. In a letter to city officials last week, Michael Kipling, an … 8
Vestal: Kirkpatrick’s ‘protocol’ lecture missed the point
Sept. 10, 2010 in City on Page A5 Earlier this week, 13 days after a cop fatally shot a citizen on his own property, Spokane police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick appeared before the public. Basic information about the shooting … 94
Police supervisors criticize news media
July 22, 2010 in City on Page A8 An association of Spokane police supervisors is speaking out about perceived bias and negative press coverage of Spokane officers. Released to Spokane media and city officials Wednesday, a letter – … 16
Ombudsman gains power
June 29, 2010 in City on Page A1 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 … 10
Police ombudsman secures expanded investigative powers
Arrest of teacher still churns
June 27, 2010 in City on Page A1 Her friends remember Beverly Saruwatari as a model citizen – an honored public school teacher, a goodwill ambassador on Spokane’s Nishinomiya Sister City Committee and a devoted single mother. She … 187
Spokane council postpones vote on police ombudsman
June 23, 2010 in City on Page A5 The long debate over the power of Spokane’s new police ombudsman will last at least one more week. Early Tuesday morning, the Spokane City Council voted 6-1 to delay a … 5
Council delays ombudsman decision