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In his last days in office, outgoing police ombudsman Tim Burns said ongoing mistrust of Spokane police is rooted in past events, and that it’s time for the community to acknowledge the large strides that have been made in police reform. “Oversight will always be on the agenda, from Otto Zehm’s day forward,” he said.
After formally accepting the resignation of police ombudsman Tim Burns on Wednesday, members of the Police Ombudsman Commission appointed one of their own to serve on the selection committee to find Burns’ replacement.
After five and a half years on the job, Spokane’s first police ombudsman announced Friday he’ll retire in early 2015. Tim Burns announced his resignation after informal talks earlier in the week with city officials, and said he’s been considering stepping down for several months.
After five and a half years on the job, Spokane's first police ombudsman announced Friday he'll be retiring in early 2015.
The feds are getting ready to give the Spokane Police Department a report card of sorts – a wide-ranging set of recommendations arising from a two-year review of department practices. It will be several weeks before the public is allowed to see the details. But next week, the team from the Department of Justice’s COPS program will be back in town to go over the preliminary recommendations with city officials and to establish a schedule for how and when the department will meet what are expected to be about 40 recommendations.
Spokane’s new citizens commission charged with overseeing police complaints opened its first meeting with many of the dreadfully dull but important questions that government work is made of: scheduling meetings, deciding leadership duties, learning the ropes of Robert’s Rules of Order and the state public meetings law. But before the night was over, the Office of the Police Ombudsman Commission was already engaging serious issues, formally asking the Spokane Police Department to more thoroughly investigate two complaints, including one that has been the most significant point of disagreement between the ombudsman, Tim Burns, and police Chief Frank Straub.
Depending on whom you ask, the timing of Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich’s request for the Spokane police ombudsman to assume a similar role for the county may be perfect, or politically motivated. Discussions between Knezovich and Tim Burns, the man who’s conducted internal reviews of police cases since 2008, have ramped up in recent weeks to formalize a long-standing relationship between the two agencies, the two men said. Knezovich said his pitch to county commissioners Tuesday morning is the culmination of months of discussions he’s had with Burns and the Center for Justice to develop an oversight structure of the department similar to the one in place at the city.
A five-member advisory board to give further oversight of the Spokane Police Department will include the former director of a human rights organization and a retired military official who most recently served at the Pentagon. Voters approved the creation of the citizen oversight commission in early 2013, and members are expected to begin their work within a month, after they pass criminal background checks and the City Council officially approves their appointments.
Spokane’s new path on police oversight has been greeted by some reform proponents as a horror, a travesty, a failure. Even supporters have been lukewarm about it: Best we can do. Give it a chance. In truth, though, it is a triumph. Not because it purely honors Proposition 1 and the city charter. It doesn’t. Not because it provides perfectly unfettered independence to the ombudsman. It doesn’t. Not because it is ideal. It’s not.
A Spokane police officer with a troubled work history was forced into retirement this month after he filed a false police report. Officer Barry O’Connell, who has been suspended three times without pay in recent years for separate violations of department policy, retired Feb. 3, just as investigators were about to recommend he be fired.
A fraud investigator from the federal public defender’s office has joined the Spokane Police Department to focus on improving the city’s seizures of drug assets, implementing new laws legalizing marijuana and updating records management. Tim Schwering, 40, will serve as deputy director of tactical and strategic initiatives, a new position that will be a point of contact between the department and the city attorney’s office.
The city of Spokane has agreed to pay $49,500 to a guest of the Davenport Hotel who suffered shoulder injuries when he was tackled by police in 2008. Charles J. Potter was charged with obstruction of justice and resisting arrest in connection with an August 2008 confrontation in which he expressed concern about how police were treating two young men they were arresting. He was acquitted by a Spokane Municipal Court jury, then sued officers Corey Lyons and Jake Jensen in U.S. District Court.
Cases where people die at the hands of police officers should be examined in a public forum, Spokane Police Ombudsman Tim Burns says in his annual report. Burns made the recommendation to hold coroner’s inquests in a report that he presented to the Spokane City Council this week. Other supporters of the idea include Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and representatives of Spokane’s Center for Justice, a public interest law firm.
The Spokane City Council has tried several times over the past two decades to craft a police oversight system with teeth. Now it’s the citizens’ turn.
Here’s where we stand, in terms of policing the police: One of the most hopeful signs about the latest proposal for true independent oversight is that it’s all bark and no bite. That’s right. All bark and no bite – that’s the selling point.
Advocates of greater police accountability are again pushing to give Spokane’s police ombudsman independent investigative authority. The Center for Justice presented a proposed ordinance during a news conference Thursday, noting that the time is right to push for the expanded authority because the city’s labor contract with the Spokane Police Guild has expired and a new one is being negotiated.
Spokane’s first police ombudsman will keep his job for another year. Mayor David Condon decided in August against renewing Ombudsman Tim Burns’ three-year contract. The move angered some City Council members, who questioned Condon’s willingness to let the city go without an ombudsman even as the city works through recent scandals involving police misconduct.
The city announced today that Spokane Mayor David Condon will extend the contract of Police Ombudsman Tim Burns until the end of the year. He previously was set to leave the post next month.