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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

David Condon pitches limited police ombudsman plan

Spokane Mayor David Condon is hoping to bolster public support for a police oversight plan that falls short of what voters demanded but would allow some independent investigation into officer misconduct.

Condon is proposing a so-called “relief valve” that would enable independent examinations only after the Spokane Police Department’s internal affairs investigation has ended. It also closes the loop on a potentially endless appeals process and stays within state labor laws dictating that procedures for handling employee discipline be negotiated with workers, city spokesman Brian Coddington said.

Under the proposal requiring City Council approval, any findings from a third-party investigation could not be used to discipline or fire officers. It also would require a 180-day deadline for all investigations into police misconduct.

Rick Eichstaedt, executive director of the Center for Justice, has been critical of the city’s failure to establish independent oversight and said Monday that Condon’s latest proposal still doesn’t comply with what voters’ demands approved in 2012 because it withholds investigatory power from the appointed police ombudsman. The ombudsman position was created in 2008 following a handful of police scandals in which questions arose over how thoroughly police were investigating themselves in Spokane.

“Why aren’t we following what both the voters requested, and the Use of Force Commission recommended?” Eichstaedt said.

Voters last fall approved a City Charter amendment calling for expanded ombudsman authority to “independently investigate” all matters of police misconduct.

Separately, a panel established by Condon to look at causes of police brutality included in its list of recommendations the ability for the ombudsman to open investigations into officer conduct.

Condon, following last month’s City Council rebuke of his negotiated proposal with the police union, is taking his case directly to the people in a series of town hall meetings. Three forums have been scheduled over the next two weeks. Condon said he was meeting weekly with council members to develop an ordinance that would address concerns about the labor contract with police.

City Council President Ben Stuckart said he shared Eichstaedt’s concerns about investigative authority being granted to an appointed third party instead of the ombudsman. But he’s reserving judgment on the ordinance until he hears from the public and said he can be persuaded the ordinance moves in the right direction toward independent oversight.

“I’m going to be paying attention to the public forum, when people come down and talk to us in person,” Stuckart said.

The proposal is an effort to juggle the desires of the police guild and council members with the mandates of state labor laws, Condon said.

“We feel comfortable, with state law, what is necessary to be negotiated and what is not necessary to be negotiated,” Condon said.

Some City Council members questioned why, after they unanimously rejected the proposed police contract, Condon is proposing that they approve the same deal.

City Councilman Steve Salvatori said he’s open to Condon’s proposal, but only if the guild agrees not to file a lawsuit against the proposed ordinance.

“I don’t want to call it an agreement if it’s a disagreement,” he said.

Councilman Jon Snyder said he’s concerned about pay raises in the contract as well as conflicts between the proposals and the charter changes approved by the public. He said he’s willing to let an arbitrator decide.

“At first glance, to me, it still doesn’t meet the charter language,” said Councilwoman Amber Waldref, who said she would withhold final judgment until after the public meetings.

The model proposed by the mayor would establish greater independent oversight than elsewhere throughout the Northwest, including Seattle, Boise and Tacoma, Coddington said.

Staff reporter Jonathan Brunt contributed to this report.