Feb. 3 is fast approaching. That's when the Spokane City Council is scheduled to vote on the controversial tentative contract agreement with the Spokane Police Guild — the same contract the council unanimously rejected in November and about which citizens angrily flooded a town hall meeting in December. Now, in the final weeks before the vote, the city administration and council have been discussing just what a new agreement should look like to satisfy the council and public.
In early January, Council President Ben Stuckart sent a letter to the mayor demanding that city legal reopen negotiations with the guild and bargain for an agreement that would empower the Office of Police Ombudsman to open independent investigations. (The ombudsman is currently allowed to participate in SPD Internal Affairs investigations, but not allowed to open his own.) The Spokane Police Accountability and Reform Coalition, made of the nonprofit Center for Justice, the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane and others, echoed that request. Now, potential contract language is circulating City Hall and was discussed with the council in a closed-door executive session Monday. To become part of the contract that governs police in the city, the language would have to be agreed to by lawyers representing both the city and the guild, approved by guild members and approved by the city council. In light of some council members' vocal dissatisfaction with the previous tentative agreement, these latest discussions are meant to find a solution that the city, guild and council could all agree on.
A Jan. 9 draft of potential language (see below) obtained by the Inlander allows for the ombudsman to conduct an independent investigation after an internal affairs investigation is complete in cases where the ombudsman commission (a citizen body that oversees the ombudsman) believes the internal affairs investigation was unsatisfactory.
City Spokesman Brian Coddington would not confirm whether the language in the Jan. 9 draft is the same as the most recent draft or whether the structure of ombudsman investigations outlined in this draft is indeed what city attorneys plan to take to the bargaining table with the guild. He said it's unclear when the city and guild negotiators will next meet or when a new draft of the tentative agreement could be ready for votes by the guild and council.
Stuckart says he can't discuss specifically what was covered in the confidential meeting Monday, but that the language being considered, like that in the draft below, allows the ombudsman to open investigations after internal affairs has completed its process if that process is unsatisfactory to the commission. Stuckart says that structure is "great" and that it "absolutely meets the charter," which citizens amended last year to include a "totally independent ombudsman."
But Tim Connor, a member of the Spokane Police Accountability and Reform Coalition, says even this new language would fail to address the biggest problem with the current ombudsman structure: that the office operates within the police department's Internal Affairs process rather than wholly separate.
"[Internal Affairs] is the Godzilla that ate our ombudsman," Connor says. "The guild has used it as way to swallow the ombudsman and make that office a creature and a prisoner of the Internal Affairs process, and that's not what the people of Spokane want."
Stuckart says he's hopeful the council will see a new agreement by that Feb. 3 meeting; Connor says he believes that timeframe is unrealistic.
Here's the Jan. 9 draft, with key changes in red: