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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Interim ombudsman asks community for police oversight goals

Police ombudsman Bart Logue wants Spokane residents to give him a goal.

Speaking to about 15 people at a Tuesday night forum, Logue said he wanted to hear ideas about what an independent police ombudsman should accomplish on the job.

“We can say independent all day long, but what is the end product that we’re looking for?” he asked.

The Police Ombudsman Commission hosted the forum to hear from those who want to see the ombudsman’s office strengthened as the city approaches negotiations with the Spokane Police Guild.

Councilman Breean Beggs, a longtime police reform advocate, has put forth a plan to change the city ordinance governing the office so the ombudsman is more removed from Internal Affairs investigations. Though that would give up some powers, it would also take the ombudsman’s office outside the scope of collective bargaining, allowing the city to create a more robust independent process for the ombudsman to investigate claims of police misconduct.

Beggs said the internal affairs process is designed to answer questions about whether an officer violated department policy and is fit to return to duty. Most residents with complaints are looking for a different set of answers, which the ombudsman is better suited to provide.

“What most people want is simply a perspective from an independent person: What actually happened that night and can it be improved?” Beggs said.

Logue stopped short of suggesting specific changes to the ordinance but said he’d like the office to serve as a national model for civilian police oversight.

“I fight with the police department on an almost daily basis to gain some ground, and I do it within the confines of the ordinance that we have,” he said.

Beggs’ idea drew support from several audience members who are regulars at commission meetings, including Tim Connor, another longtime reform advocate with the Spokane Police Accountability and Reform Coalition.

Connor presented several proposals the coalition has discussed, some of which kept union involvement. He said he personally believed collective bargaining is “where all of the good ideas about police accountability go to die.”

“The wiser approach is to find a way to pull this out of the collective bargaining process now,” he said, referring to the ombudsman’s office. “You still have a lot of ways to monitor IA (Internal Affairs) without the ombudsman sitting at the table.”

Some objected to cutting the guild out of the process, saying police oversight should be collaborative. Phil Tyler, vice president of the Spokane NAACP and a former Spokane County Sheriff’s Office deputy, said good oversight provides legitimacy to law enforcement agencies.

“We’re looking for that win-win solution,” Tyler said.

Some also spoke about the need to have an ombudsman who advocates for people whose voices are less likely to be heard.

Several speakers criticized the ordinance’s lengthy, bureaucratic hiring process that has left the city without a permanent ombudsman since January 2015. One suggested adding timelines for the city’s human resources department during a hiring process, as well as requiring them to vet candidates.

Beggs hopes to have a revised ordinance completed before the city begins negotiations with the guild this summer.

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