Topics

Police ombudsman

Summary

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


  • 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 …


  • Law agencies see benefit of cameras

    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 …


  • Complaints against police rose in 2010

    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 …


  • Shawn Vestal: Ombudsman shows aptitude for his job, however defined

    The police chief has an excellent question about the city’s cops watchdog. What, exactly, is Tim Burns’ authority?


  • Long wait by armed driver also at issue

    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 …


  • Use-of-force case leaves questions

    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 …


  • Recent police shootings raise notion of inquests

    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 …


  • Verner takes lead in longevity

    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 …


  • ACLU argues city denied rights

    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 …


  • Vestal: Kirkpatrick’s ‘protocol’ lecture missed the point

    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 …


  • Police supervisors criticize news media

    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 – …


  • Ombudsman gains power

    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 …


  • Police ombudsman secures expanded investigative powers

    New investigative powers are being given to Spokane’s police ombudsman.


  • Arrest of teacher still churns

    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 …


  • Spokane council postpones vote on police ombudsman

    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 …


  • Council delays ombudsman decision

    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 …


  • City Council delays vote on ombudsman request

    Spokane City Council President Joe Shogan announced just after midnight today that there would not be a vote during the session about providing the ombudsman the power to conduct independent …


  • Police ombudsman debate runs late into night

    The Spokane City Council Monday night debated late into the evening about a plan giving the city’s police ombudsman authority to conduct independent investigations into police misconduct.


  • Spokane police ombudsman wants to investigate

    Spokane’s police ombudsman has reversed his stance and is asking city leaders for the right to examine allegations of police misconduct independent of the Police Department’s own probes. When the …


  • Ombudsman can’t polish police image

    For the record, I am all in favor of elevating our police ombudsman into something more than a Spokane Police Guild sock puppet. But do I think giving Tim Burns …


  • Spokane City Council delays police oversight decision

    Two dozen people urged the Spokane City Council to let the city police ombudsman listen to someone other than police about police misconduct, but a confidential legal memo stood in …


  • Council to consider plan for stronger ombudsman

    An effort to expand the powers of the city of Spokane’s police ombudsman may go before the City Council on Monday night. The proposed ordinance would allow Ombudsman Tim Burns …


  • When it comes to cop shenanigans, answers often lacking

    There’s been so much crazy cop news around here lately that it’s hard to keep track of the mayhem. So I designed today’s helpful quiz as a way to test …


  • Police ombudsman issues first report to city

    The first 18 of 19 internal investigations into police actions to be reviewed by Spokane’s police ombudsman have been labeled “timely, thorough and objective.” Spokane’s first police ombudsman, Tim Burns, …


  • Police ombudsman clears 18 of 19 cases

    The first 18 of 19 internal investigations into police actions to be reviewed by Spokane’s police ombudsman have been labeled “timely, thorough and objective.”


  • Greater ombudsman powers urged

    A coalition of organizations called on Spokane City Hall last week to create stronger oversight of its police force, but some elected leaders say they want to give the new …


  • Groups criticize police oversight

    A coalition of groups fighting for stronger police oversight said Tuesday that a new police contract shouldn’t stop the city from giving the new police ombudsman more authority.


  • Union releases deal’s terms

    City Hall’s largest union will give up half of its promised 2010 pay raise to prevent layoffs, if the Spokane City Council signs off on a new agreement. Officials last …

 

Sections


Profile

Contact the Spokesman

Main switchboard:
(509) 459-5000
Customer service:
(800) 338-8801
Newsroom:
(509) 459-5400
(800) 789-0029
Back to Spokesman Mobile