The “Listening Session”
By Tim Connor
On a Wednesday in mid-November the City of Spokane did something it had never done before.
It convened a meeting to hear from the public about the City’s imminent contract negotiations with the Spokane Police Guild and the Lieutenants and Captains Association. Those familiar with the problem will recognize what a big deal this is. From coast-to-coast, the major obstacle to police reform has been a lack of transparency and the exclusion of a citizen voice in the collective bargaining process.
In that respect, the “listening session” at the Northeast Community Center could be a turning point in the 8-year struggle to achieve a semblance of independence and credibility for Spokane’s Office of Police Ombudsman (OPO). It was a long struggle even to get the meeting, the proposal for which started as a formal recommendation, four years ago, from the now-defunct Use of Force Commission. More importantly, in late 2012, the commission also recommended the OPO be invested with “the authority and discretion to open and conduct independent investigations.”
Although Mayor David Condon attended and participated in the meeting, it remains to be seen whether the City’s negotiator(s) will actually be directed to push the independence issue with police union representatives when the negotiations get underway later this year.
If that does happen, citizens should thank Councilman Breean Beggs, who pushed for the meeting, and the City’s newly-chosen police ombudsperson, Bart Logue. Logue didn’t speak long at the meeting, but what he said spoke volumes. He quickly gave credence to the criticism that the current bargaining agreements and ordinance do not square with Proposition 1, the city charter amendment approved by an overwhelming majority of voters in 2013. He said the charter requires the OPO both oversee the police department’s internal investigations, and be responsive to citizen requests for independent investigations, and that he doesn’t have sufficient resources to do both.
Moreover, he specifically noted that the current language— both in the contracts and the ordinance—actually restrict him from being able to report fully and accurately on his investigative findings.
PJALS staff and members participated in the meeting as part of our continued involvement with the Spokane Police Accountability Reform Coalition (SPARC).