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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Complaint going to mayor
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From the Spokane police chief
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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
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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
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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
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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