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Spokane City Council to consider another police contract; plus, bullying in CdA

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City and Spokane Police Guild negotiators have reached a new tentative contract agreement they hope will satisfy the city council, which rejected an earlier agreement and has called for more authority for the police ombudsman. The new agreement maintains the current structure in which the ombudsman sits in on Internal Affairs investigations, but adds several new roles:

• Where he previously forwarded all complaints of excessive force or “improper/inappropriate interaction with an officer” to IA, the ombudsman would now conduct a preliminary investigation to determine whether to forward the complaint to IA. (Unless an officer is the one filing a complaint, the ombudsman cannot interview officers at this step.)

• If IA refuses to open an investigation, the Police Ombudsman Commission (a new citizen group established to oversee the ombudsman) can direct the ombudsman to conduct an independent investigation into the complaint. The ombudsman can request, but not require, officers to answer his questions.

• If the commission continues to believe IA is insufficiently investigating, it can direct the ombudsman or an unspecified third-party group to further investigate, but not until the department has determined whether the involved officer will be disciplined. The ombudsman still couldn’t require officers to talk with him.

The city council will vote on the agreement at its 6 pm meeting Monday and, if passed, Guild members will vote on it later this month. Read more here.

— HEIDI GROOVER

This is What Bullying Looks Like

“One of my friends pretended to be friends with a disabled kid. When the disabled student left, she mimicked the kid’s limp.”

“A girl put a picture of a whale and a pig on this girl’s Facebook page and said, these are your sisters.”

Those are just two Coeur d’Alene student experiences as relayed by Steve Wessler, the national anti-bullying expert brought in to assist the district. He released his high school and middle school climate summary last week, after conducting 34 student focus groups with 294 different students. While he also noted positive actions by students and teachers, he also saw pervasive levels of bullying.

“The report was difficult to read,” says school board member Christa Hazel. “I started reading that report as a trustee and I finished reading the report as a parent.”

In particular, she’s concerned about incidents that go beyond bullying and into sexual assault.

Wessler concluded his report with a list of suggestions for how to improve the districts’ climate, including creating leadership programs for students, holding “conflict resolution dialogues” about gender, race and religion, and training staff on the best way to respond to harassment.

“This could be a four-to-five-year process,” Hazel says, “[before] you really start to see the turn-around.”

— DANIEL WALTERS

SPD internal investigations

A longtime Spokane police officer filed retirement papers Monday amid an Internal Affairs investigation into alleged false reporting, just days after SPD officials also placed a sergeant on paid administrative leave pending a separate, unrelated internal investigation.

Officer Barry O’Connell filed for retirement this week instead of facing possible termination over a sustained finding on false reporting allegations. Officials say the Spokane officer of 20 years was first placed on leave in late November pending the investigation, which resulted in a recent recommendation calling for his firing.

“As a result of his retirement,” an SPD statement says, “the Internal Affairs investigation against O’Connell will be closed with no further action.”

O’Connell was previously suspended from duty for three weeks in 2012 after his 10-year-old daughter accidentally shot herself in the leg with his department handgun.

Police officials says Sgt. Chet Gilmore, a 25-year veteran, was also placed on administrative leave last Wednesday pending a separate internal investigation. SPD spokeswoman Monique Cotton reports the allegations are not criminal, but would not provide additional details regarding the nature of the investigation.

— JACOB JONES

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