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.”
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
Center for Justice memo on arbitor’s ombudsman decision
Memo from Center for Justice about arbitrator’s decision ruling that the city violated bargaining rules by approving a law giving the police ombudsman investigative powers.
Spokane Police Guild PERC complaint
Complaint filed by the Spokane Police Guild with the state Public Employment Relations Commission challenging the city’s update of the police ombudsman ordinance.
PERC initial response to Guild complaint
The preliminary response of the state Public Employment Relations Commission to Spokane Police Guild complaint over the city’s new police ombudsman rules.
Breann Beggs letter to Mike Piccolo
A letter from Breann Beggs, attorney for the estate of Otto Zehm, to Mike Piccolo, assigned attorney for City Council members. The letter is in response to an order from …
Police ombudsman ordinance (May 24 version)
An ordinance relating to the police oversight ordinance clarifying duty of independent reporting that does not infringe on collective bargaining rights, adopting a new section to the Spokane Municipal Code. …
Police ombudsman ordinance (June 21 version)
Ordinance on the investigatory powers of the Office of the Police Ombudsman, introduced to the June 21, 2010, Spokane City Council agenda. This version amends a previous proposal held over …
Proposed Spokane police accountability ordinance
Proposed changes to the powers of the Spokane Office of the Police Ombudsman, dated May 6, 2010. Among other things, the changes would allow the ombudsman to initiate investigations and …
Draft Spokane police ombudsman 2009 report
Proposed police oversight ordinance
A ordinance intended to strengthen the oversight of the Spokane police ombudsman position, sponsored by the Peace and Justice Action League.
Police ombudsman position
City of Spokane description of the new police ombudsman position. Facts and FAQ.
Joint letter to Mayor Mary Verner
Regarding the hiring of a Spokane police ombudsman. Dated June 10, 2009.
Police ombudsman job description
Qualifications and job description for the position of police ombudsman being advertised by the city of Spokane.
Spokane police ombudsman agreement