Raheel Humayun’s arrival in Spokane as police ombudsman cannot come too soon.
Unfortunately, it could be as long as four months before Humayun can obtain a visa and relocate from Victoria, British Columbia, where he has compiled an impressive resume as an investigator and analyst for the province and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada’s national police force.
Perhaps the controversies that have enveloped the department in recent weeks — the ouster of former chief Frank Straub and allegations of sexual assault by one officer against another — will have subsided when he takes office. Internal affairs will not be his bailiwick, but they have been a distraction.
Meanwhile, another committee appointed by the Office of Police Ombudsman Commission must find an interim leader for an office that has been vacant for almost a year. That person’s importance will belie the qualifier “interim.”
Complaints against the police force have accumulated for months – the former ombudsman left almost a year ago. The interim appointee, if he or she cannot initiate any investigations, can at least do some triage; sorting the serious from the petty.
Depending on the resources available, that person could also be kept on to work off the minor complaints. Worst case, it may be necessary for the appointee to stay on should Humayun not get a visa. Best case, the position becomes the foundation for a succession plan that will have someone ready to take over when Humayun leaves: His initial appointment is for three years.
Another long period without an ombudsman would be inexcusable.
Assuming the visa is not a problem, Humayun will have much to do aside from attacking the case backlog.
He will arrive with a limited network of contacts, and modest familiarity with the police force, although leadership was involved in his selection. He will have to engage a community shaken not only by disruption within the police department, but one understandably disappointed with a seeming lack of commitment by city leaders to get an ombudsman on board with the more robust investigative powers authorized by voters in February 2013.
The blowup of the commission earlier this year, when three members of five members were removed or resigned, only added to the frustration.
Humayun says he will press for stronger oversight powers, but that will not come without an effort to quickly establish credibility among police officers and the community, which must welcome a stranger.
In his resume, Humayun says building community relationships and working tactfully with police organizations are among his strengths. As the ombudsman, he’ll need those, and more.
The Spokane Police Department is a better force today than it was in 2006, when the death of Otto Zehm launched overdue reviews of its use of force, and the city’s justice system generally.
Continuation of that process requires an effective ombudsman and commission. The reconstituted commission says it has found the right man for the job.
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