by Dom Felix
One year after voters passed amended the City Charter to mandate independent investigation authority by the Office of Police Ombudsman (OPO), City Council approved a contract between the city of Spokane and the Police Guild, along with an accompanying ordinance, that severely limits when or even if the Ombudsman will have that power.
Mayor Condon, Police Chief Straub, and Council Members are quick to insist that Spokane now has one of the strongest police oversight models in the region or the nation, but this may speak to how weak police accountability is elsewhere, not how strong it is here.
The news is not all bad. This contract does not guarantee independent investigative power to the Ombudsman, but it does not explicitly prohibit it either and the City Charter supersedes any union agreement.
It will be critical to monitor the OPO over the next few months to see if, when requested, citizens get an investigation (and closing report with findings) by the Ombudsman when the citizen does not want the complaint forwarded to Internal Affairs, but rather prefers an investigation by the OPO. It is unclear at this point if the Ombudsman will agree to conduct an independent investigation at the behest of a complainant or whether the OPO can legally perform such a role.
It will also be important to be aware of who is appointed to the five member volunteer OPO Commission that oversees the Ombudsman and has some control over when the office could investigate. Two of the five members will be chosen by the Mayor and approved by City Council. The other three will be chosen by City Council, one from each of the three council districts. As citizens we can have an impact by making sure council members know who the best candidates are for these positions.
PJALS is a member of the Spokane Police Accountability and Reform Coalition (SPARC), which is sending volunteers to speak at Neighborhood Council Meetings about the history of police accountability, what we as citizens can do moving forward, and how to get involved.
Three really simple steps are: 1) Like us on Facebook, “Police Accountability for Spokane” 2) Join our email list with a message to [email protected]. 3) Come to a SPARC meeting on the 2nd Wednesday of every month, at 5:30 in the Community Building, 35 W. Main.