Police ombudsman


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

  • Spokane hires first police ombudsman

    After years of debate, Spokane on Monday hired its first independent police ombudsman.

  • Police union likes ombudsman choice

    The president of the Spokane Police Guild said Wednesday he’s pleased with Mayor Mary Verner’s decision to name Tim Burns the city’s first police ombudsman.

  • Pick for ombudsman is ‘approachable guy’

    The mayor’s top choice for Spokane’s first police ombudsman looks more like a hippie than a former cop. Mayor Mary Verner announced Tuesday that she selected Tim Burns, the long-haired …

  • Protest outdraws ombudsman forum

    The warmest day of the year appeared to be enough to keep crowds from a Friday meet and greet with the three finalists vying to be Spokane’s first police ombudsman. …

  • Few show up to meet ombudsman candidates

    The warmest day of year appeared to be enough to keep crowds from a Friday meet and greet with the three finalists vying to be Spokane’s first police ombudsman. Fewer …

  • Spokane unveils top ombudsman candidates

    More than two years after former Mayor Dennis Hession announced support for a new job to oversee police actions, city leaders on Monday announced the top candidates to become Spokane’s …

  • Police ombudsman search thins field to 9

    Times are tough out there. One hundred and twenty-eight people applied to be Spokane’s first police ombudsman.

  • Ombudsman search starts

    The city of Spokane has begun the search for a police ombudsman, a position that got strong public support after several recent controversies, including the 2006 death of mentally disabled …

  • City reaches deal with police guild about oversight

    Spokane Mayor Mary Verner and the Spokane Police Guild have reached a tentative agreement on a new ombudsman’s office that would review citizen complaints but leave officer discipline to the …

  • Verner says city can’t afford full-time ombudsman

    Spokane can’t afford a full-time police ombudsman, says Mayor Mary Verner. Instead, Verner has proposed contracting for ombudsman services to keep costs lower.

  • Police oversight a campaign issue

    In most elections, candidates for office in the city of Spokane face a basic question about police: Are there enough of them to do the job? Candidates might argue yes …

  • Consultant: Get rid of police review board

    Spokane’s all-volunteer Citizen’s Review Commission no longer has the trust of the public to monitor police misconduct and should be replaced by a full-time police ombudsman appointed by and answerable …

  • New police oversight in works

    A new model for citizen oversight of police in Spokane is needed and on the way, Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick told an audience Tuesday night as they flooded her with …





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