The independence of Spokane’s police ombudsman dominated discussion at a Tuesday forum where community members questioned finalists for the job.
Bart Logue, who’s been serving as the city’s interim ombudsman since February, answered questions at West Central Community Center alongside the other finalist, Jacquelyn MacConnell, a former Phoenix police officer.
About 25 people, including half a dozen Spokane police officers, attended the forum. No officers asked questions, but community members wanted to know what candidates would do to establish independent investigative powers for the office.
Voters approved those powers in a 2013 ballot measure, but to date the police ombudsman has never conducted an investigation outside the Internal Affairs process.
Logue spoke at length about the work he’s already done in the office, including successfully negotiating with the Spokane Police Guild for access to body camera footage. He said in an ideal world, he’d have broader investigative powers, including the ability to compel interviews of officers.
“My challenge is in the back of this room,” he said, gesturing to a seated row of police officers. He also said much of the good work done by law enforcement in Spokane goes unnoticed, creating a false impression that all officers are bad.
MacConnell recognized she had less experience with the specifics of the ombudsman’s role than Logue, but told community members she would work to build bridges between the community and law enforcement, drawing on her years of experience with community policing.
Police and community members “have to be very careful not to get an us-versus-them mentality,” she said. She said it’s possible for an ombudsman to maintain good relationships with both groups.
“You’ve got to stand your ground,” she said.
In Phoenix, MacConnell spent most of her career working in largely Hispanic precincts, she said, and started a program to teach officers basic Spanish. She also founded the nonprofit Angels on Patrol, which helps children and families identified by police officers who have been abused or are in extreme need.
She said it “would be nice” for the ombudsman’s office to have more powers and said being independent also means being neutral when someone brings a complaint forward.
“You’re not taking sides. You’re not siding with the police department, you’re not siding with the community,” she said.
The police ombudsman commission will select one of the two applicants following another community panel and an interview Wednesday.
Commission Chairwoman Deb Conklin said in spite of Logue’s tenure in the job, either candidate has a “fair shot” at being named ombudsman.
“It’s an open question who I would prefer for the job,” she said.
Mary Ann Murphy, who chaired the city’s Police Leadership Advisory Committee and helped provide recommendations on the search for a new police chief, said she was impressed with both candidates.
She said she didn’t fault MacConnell for having less detailed answers about the particulars of the job, saying her community policing experience and work at Angels on Patrol was impressive.
“How can she know what she doesn’t know yet?” Murphy said.
Shar Lichty, an organizer with the Peace and Justice Action League who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2015, said she was impressed with both candidates. She also appreciated the city’s ombudsman commission sticking with an established hiring process rather than giving Logue the job.
“We’ve had enough of people ignoring proper procedure with hiring,” Lichty said, referring to Mayor David Condon’s recent decision to forgo a hiring process to select Assistant Chief Craig Meidl to be police chief even though he didn’t apply for the job.
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