Mayor Weighs Hope on Public To Accept Police Oversight Model

By Paige Browning

Spokane’s mayor has presented his idea of how the city can strengthen police oversight as requested by voters last February. The heart of ongoing battles over oversight goes back to what the role of the police ombudsman is.
 
The City council denied a tentative agreement on policing by the mayor and police guild last month. That agreement is on the table again, along with the Mayor David Condon’s new ordinance.
 
Condon: “This proposed ordinance expands independent, civilian, police oversight, and creates an independent civilian commission, as well as the opportunity of the commission to engage in an independent third-party agency if necessary to resolve investigative issues.”
 
Condon says the option for third party review makes it a model for oversight in Washington state. He and Police Chief Frank Straub contend this ordinance meets what the citizens requested through proposition one. Straub says nothing in the proposition says the ombudsman should do investigations without the involvement of the police department.
 
Straub: “The role of the ombudsman is very clear: to ensure that the complaint that was made by a citizen was thoroughly investigated. And I have to be very clear, is intricately involved in the whole investigative process right now from start to finish. We can’t close an investigation right now until the ombudsman says it’s complete and thorough.”
 
The ordinance would allow the ombudsman commission and city internal affairs to investigate complaints, but they could not order officer discipline.  Chief Straub says Washington state law mandates that only police chiefs can discipline officers.
 
The ordinance will now be vetted by the public in a series of three meetings. The council plans to vote on it December 16th. Council President Ben Stuckart says his vote will depend on whether the public thinks it implements proposition one.
 
Stuckart: “I told everybody I’m listening to the public, and if the public says this goes far enough, them I’m okay. But if they say this isn’t what they want them I’m voting no.”
 
Some council members have shared concern that if they pass this ordinance, the police guild could still challenge it in court. But at the press conference, guild president John Gately said he knows citizens want more independent oversight. He said "I don’t know how much farther independent we can get, when you have a truly independent commission watching over the ombudsman, and that’s who he reports to.” 
 
But, he said the guild will not waive its rights to filing a complaint.

Condon says his administration will vigorously defend the ordinance.
 
Copyright 2013 Spokane Public Radio
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