CITY BALLOT: Voters Could Give Police Ombudsman More Investigative Authority

By Paige Browning

Spokane’s proposition one would give the police ombudsman authority to independently investigate complaints regarding the police department.  Prop one would also create a Police Ombudsman Commission.
The office of the police ombudsman – or OPO – can currently review complaints against officers, and existing internal affairs investigations.  The police oversight office cannot investigate on its own.
City Council Member’s Steve Salvatori and Mike Allen sponsored a resolution in November to give the OPO more freedom.  It became the reason to have a February ballot in the first place.  Salvatori says it’s time to let citizens go on record about it.
Salvatori: “So that all current and future mayors and council, and all future and current police guild members, so every one would be on the same page knowing the citizens do want this. It is a common and reasonable request.  It leads to increased trust in the community, on both the citizens and police officers and it leads to increased safety for both.”
Another individual closely watching this issue is Rick Eichstaedt, Executive Director of the Center for Justice.
Eichstaedt: “There is no opposition to this.  In speaking with folks in the community, everyone agrees, no matter what their opinion is of our police, that this is something that’s needed.”
So, why need a ballot measure? 

The Spokane Police Guild has struggled with the idea of independent investigative authority virtually since the OPO was created in 2008.  In 2009 city council requested the OPO have more freedom, but it wasn’t included in revisions of the guild contract.  The council tried again in 2010, and was blocked by guild complaints.  Salvatori says now is a good time to bring it up again.
Salvatori: “I think we have a new beginning with the guild.  We’ve put a lot of stuff behind us now, the Otto Zehm settlement’s behind us, the Karl Thompson sentencing is behind us, we have a new police chief, we have a new mayor, we have a new city council, we have some lessons learned over the last few years.”

Eichstaedt says it’s also good timing because the police guild contract is currently being negotiated. 
Eichstaedt: “When citizens vote… they’ll be able to send a message to the folks from the city who are negotiating the contract that this is something that needs to be in the contract and it will no longer be optional.”

A call to guild president Ernie Wuthrich on Wednesday was not returned by air time.  Salvatori notes that after talking casually with police officers, he is optimistic about the future of police oversight.
Copyright 2013 Spokane Public Radio
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