Liberty Link: Police Guild Has Spokane Ombudsman Where It Wants Him

Thursday, July 14, 2011

An arbitrator this week revoked a law that strengthened Spokane’s police ombudsman powers to investigate allegations of officer misconduct independently of the police. Spokane’s Police Guild had challenged the new powers as a change in working conditions that must be negotiated with the Guild as part of its contract with the city, and the arbitrator agreed.

As Spokesman’s Spokesman-Review reported, the original law, passed in 2008, allowed the ombudsman (currently Tim Burns) to sit in on police investigations into officer misconduct and label whether those investigations were thorough, timely and fair. He can order additional information and interviews from internal affairs officers. If the chief doesn’t oblige, he can appeal to the mayor, who has the final say. He also is allowed to make broad policy recommendations. Last year, the City Council unanimously voted to give the ombudsman the power to conduct his own investigations, including interviewing witnesses, and make those reports public.

The Spokesman-Review noted that the guild’s president said his members objected to the revised rules because they believe allowing Burns to conduct his own investigation could jeopardize his ability to remain objective when analyzing internal affairs probes.