Friday, October 4, 2013

Center for Justice: new contract does not include investigative powers for ombudsman

Posted By on Fri, Oct 4, 2013 at 3:38 PM

Earlier today, we reported that the Spokane Police Guild and city administration have reached a tentative agreement about a new police contract, but few details about its content were available.

Now, local police accountability advocates say they've seen the section of the agreement that outlines police oversight and they're not satisfied. 

Center for Justice Executive Director Rick Eichstaedt and Communications Director Tim Connor say City Councilman Steve Salvatori showed them the portion of the contract regarding the Office of Police Ombudsman and that it does not include long-desired independent investigative powers for the office. 

That, the group says, flies in the face of voter-approved Proposition 1, calling for a stronger ombudsman, and the Use of Force Commission's recommendations

Eichstaedt and Connor say after comparing that part of the new agreement and the same portion of the existing contract, which only allows the ombudsman to sit in on SPD internal affairs investigations, they find few real differences. The new agreement does reflect one "substantive change," Connor says: Currently, if the ombudsman reviews an internal affairs investigation and is not satisfied with it, his appeal is sent to the mayor; under the new agreement such a concern would go on to a multi-member ombudsman commission, like the one outlined in Proposition 1. Further, Connor and Eichstaedt say they were provided a one-page list of the city's requests throughout negotiations and the guild's responses to each request. That, Connor says, shows "no indication that the city asked for independent investigations for the ombudsman." 

When asked about those claims, City Spokesman Brian Coddington said he cannot comment on the specifics of the contract, adding, "What I can tell you is we are comfortable that the agreement is going to meet the needs of the community."

Liz Moore, director of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, which has also been active on this issue, called a lack of independent investigative powers for the ombudsman "outrageous."

"Anyone who has been involved in producing this and claiming it meets the standards set in Proposition 1 should be ashamed of themselves," Moore says.

The groups say they'll attend Monday's council meeting to urge council members to pass an ordinance sponsored by Salvatori, which would empower the ombudsman to do independent investigations, despite potential contradictions with the tentative agreement. Eichstaedt says having the ordinance on the books before approval of a final contract would require council members to go back and change the ordinance later if they approve a contract without independent investigative powers. 

"If we have to go back to Steve's ordinance and start chopping," Eichstaedt says, "the public's going to be able to get a clear picture of what we're losing versus what expectations have been for a number of years."

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Heidi Groover

Heidi Groover is a staff writer at the Inlander, where she covers city government and drug policy. On the job, she's spent time with prostitutes, "street kids," marriage equality advocates and the family of a 16-year-old organ donor...