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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Valley council looking to create separate police oversight board

The irony of Spokane Valley city councilman and limited-government champion Ed Pace proposing a new layer of government was not lost on Councilman Chuck Hafner, who said he was surprised Pace is proposing a Valley-only public safety oversight committee.

“I just can’t believe this is coming from you,” Hafner said, drawing a few chuckles in an otherwise tense and contentious Tuesday evening Spokane Valley City Council meeting.

The discussion – which did not allow for public comment from a packed council chamber – began with Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich explaining oversight procedures. The Sheriff’s Office provides police service to Spokane Valley under contract.

“We have external oversight, including the prosecutor’s office, the attorney general, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s office,” Knezovich said. He added that during his tenure, the number of citizen contacts has gone up, but the number of complaints has gone down.

The first step in investigating a complaint involving the Spokane Valley Police Department or the Sheriff’s Office is currently the 17-member volunteer Sheriff’s Citizen Advisory Board, many of whom were at the meeting Tuesday.

Knezovich said last week he’s concerned that a separate oversight committee in the Valley will add confusion. Instead, he offered two vacant spots on the advisory board to be filled by Spokane Valley council members.

Spokane Valley Mayor Rod Higgins said that’s not a good idea.

“The council members could easily create a conflict of interest if something from the council comes before the board,” Higgins said.

Pace agreed with Higgins and said his intent is to create an oversight committee that reports to the City Council.

Pace said the proposal is not meant as a criticism of the Sheriff’s Office and it’s not to be perceived as a step toward Spokane Valley creating its own police force.

“I’m suggesting we create a six-month ad hoc committee that will help us design the oversight board,” Pace said.

The ad hoc committee could consist of three to five Valley residents with no connection to public safety, a couple of police officers, council members and a volunteer attorney from the Center for Justice.

“The final version would be similar to the planning commission,” Pace said. “I want people with no ax to grind. They would be basic citizens with no connection to law enforcement.”

The ad hoc committee, which can be appointed by the mayor, would present its ideas to the city council and there would be opportunities for public input and feedback, Pace said.

“What I am presenting here is a straw proposal. Other proposals are welcome,” Pace said.

The oversight board would study police reports and issues brought forth by residents, police, employees and council members. The City Council would decide which issues could affect policymaking and which would be sent on to the city manager because they are administrative matters.

Knezovich pointed out that the current Citizen’s Advisory Board has access to police reports and witnesses when it goes about its investigations, and the Valley is heavily represented on the CAB, holding 12 of 17 positions.

Councilman Bill Gothmann said he believes there’s adequate oversight as it is, and a Valley-specific oversight committee would expose the city to increased liability that could cost millions of dollars.

Deputy Mayor Arne Woodard asked staff to not spend any time on the matter until after the upcoming all-day council workshop, which is heavily focused on law enforcement.

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