After listening to the carousel of ideas and disagreements within the Office of Police Ombudsman Commission and angst within the Spokane community over the process, I have come to the conclusion that offering the permanent post to the current interim ombudsman is the best option.
Spokane Mayor David Condon and Council President Ben Stuckart recently expressed the same view.
So how do we get here?
Spokane’s first police ombudsman, Tim Burns, quit in January 2015, and a search committee was formed a month later. From February to September, two versions of the selection committee and the Spokane Human Resources Department worked to send three candidates to the Office of Police Ombudsman Commission for a final selection.
As a concerned citizen interested in the process being used in selecting an ombudsman, I began sitting in on the OPOC meetings in August 2015. I was particularly concerned about why it had taken so long to fill the vacancy, whether on a permanent or interim basis, given both options had been authorized by City Hall.
On Nov. 23, 2015, Raheel Humayun agreed to accept the OPOC’s offer to be the next permanent ombudsman. Humayun is a Canadian citizen working as an investigator for the British Columbia Office of Police Ombudsperson, and since he is not a U.S. citizen, he needs a work permit visa, which could take up to a year to secure.
The OPOC submitted a request to the Canadian national authority on Jan. 19 to obtain a work permit for Humayun to be finalized within 75 days. In the meantime, Bart Logue was hired on Feb. 3 as the interim ombudsman. Logue is a retired U.S. Marine provost marshal and U.S. diplomat whose duties included chief of police and civilian-military complaint arbitrator.
The OPOC received notice on March 17 that the permit request for Humayun had been denied. Four days later, members voted 4-1 to resubmit a new permit application to the British Columbia regional authority, and simultaneously submit a third application to enter Humayun into a national lottery (to be held May 1). If these actions fail, according to commission Chair Deb Conklin, then a new national search for a permanent ombudsman would be necessary.
Here’s the problem: First, there is no guarantee that the new visa application will be successful, especially given that the Canadian government has already said “no” to Humayun; and, a request submitted to a national lottery is nothing more than a crapshoot.
If Humayan is successful with the regional visa permit application, then he can presumably come to work right away. However, if he isn’t, but he does “win” the lottery, then he won’t be able to come to work until Oct. 1, about 21 months since the vacancy occurred.
My second concern deals with the issue of who’s the best-qualified candidate, and how poorly candidate vetting took place for the permanent position and yet how well it was carried out for the interim selection. I met with Humayun and Logue to discuss their credentials and experiences. Based on my assessment, Logue has a substantially and materially better track record of constituent engagement and ombudsman-related policy implementation.
Again, Humayun is an investigator for an ombudsperson office and was a forensics technician, whereas Logue has actually adjudicated decisions on bad behavior in law enforcement and carried out many of the prescribed duties of an ombudsman, such as community outreach, for more than a decade. Logue also worked closely with diverse ethnic and religious groups for assessing facts on the ground for the U.S. government. These differences do not mean that both would not serve our community well, but the contrast in expertise is dramatic when viewed in the context of organizational leadership and addressing diversity concerns within the broader community.
Here’s the solution: Three senior members of the Human Resources Department recently informed me that the OPOC is an independent body with its own hiring authority. As such, it could select a candidate from either the interim or permanent lists but only if the selection committee first decides that no additional applicants are needed. In essence, then, the OPOC could rescind or withdraw the current offer to Humayun at will and simply request the selection committee send them the names of the top three candidates from either list (including Logue) to fill the permanent position for the three-year term.
Logue has already gone through a rigorous vetting and selection process against other highly qualified candidates and came out as the top candidate – as one OPOC commissioner has pointed out, qualifications are more important than national citizenship. Therefore, I see no reason why the OPOC should continue looking elsewhere for a permanent ombudsman when the current interim appears to be the best fit for Spokane.
Howard Braham serves on the Spokane County Civil Service Commission and is a member of the Spokane Police Advisory Committee.
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