Liz Moore, PJALS director, gave this statement at a PJALS and Center for Justice press conference this afternoon, where our organizations released a newly drafted ordinance strengthening independent oversight of the Spokane Police Department, with the support of the League of Women Voters.

The Peace and Justice Action League strongly supports this new strong Police Oversight ordinance because it does 3 completely critical things:

1. gives the Ombudsman investigative authority and mandates public reporting on investigations;

2. removes police unions from the process of selecting the Ombudsman responsible for oversight of the police department; and

3. creates a commission of community members to review and guide the Ombudsman’s work.

Achieving a truly independent Office of Police Ombudsman with investigative authority and public reporting on investigations: this is core to what our community needs in order to open the curtains, let sunlight in, create accountability, end police abuses of power and abuses of force, and build trust between community members and the police department.

This is a historic struggle in our community.

Carl Maxey, attorney and civil rights worker, said in 1975, the year that PJALS was founded: “There must be a viable method or getting a full and complete investigation when a death is caused by a policeman.” And 37 years later, we are still calling for the same thing! It’s time to get it done!

The city’s own report by Sam Pailca in 2007 said we need independence, transparency, and professional, meaningful review.
Just in the past 2-3 years community members have repeatedly, strongly, and clearly called for these core essentials. We’ve heard story after story, often accompanied by tears or great emotion, right into the microphone of city council meetings, of misuse of power and authority and wrong uses of force, from stories that smack of racially biased policing and profiling, to outrageous uses of force such as in Otto Zehm’s death.

This moment is key because of the city’s negotiations with the Guild. The Guild contract must not be a barrier or obstacle to our community being able to move forward.

We know city council members and the Mayor’s office understands the importance of achieving independent and meaningful oversight.

Our community is united in calling for independence, investigations, and public reporting. We are united in calling for change. It’s time to get it done!