City, Police Reach Ombudsman Agreement

SPOKANE — The City of Spokane and its police officers have reached a tentative agreement for the creation of a position that will effectively police the police.

Mayor Mary Verner and Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick both have supported the creation of an ombudsman office, where citizens would be able to file complaints about the police department. A tentative deal has been reached with the Police Guild which lays out how that office will work.

When the ombudsman office gets up and running citizens will no longer complain to the police but to the new office although it appears the police will still be the ones investigating their own officers.

“I think we’re being very responsible to what citizens called for,” Mayor Verner said, adding that the ombudsman office will provide accountability and transparency for the police department.

The ombudsman would act as a watchdog for the department, looking into – for example – whether or not investigations are being conducted thoroughly and then giving an opinion on what’s happening in those cases, Verner said.

The city says the ombudsman office will take complaints directing from citizens. It will sit in on internal affairs investigations including interviews to make sure investigations are complete and fair. If that isn’t the case the ombudsman can call for more work to be done.

City officials say the office will not conduct it’s own investigations and will only monitor ones done by police. It will also not review past complaints or fatalities like the officer involved death of Otto Zehm. The ombudsman will only investigate new complaints once the office is up and running.

“It’s head and shoulders above what we’ve had assuming the person really is independent and reports to the mayor and the council,” Breean Beggs with Spokane’s Center for Justice said.

The Center for Justice has been critical of several recent police incidents, and Beggs says they’re cautiously optimistic about the new ombudsman office.

“As long as [the] person is appointed independently, has a sufficient budget and has the power to do independent investigations not for discipline but show how things can be better then it will work, until that happens we don’t know but we’re hopeful for the best,” he said.