Tuesday, February 4, 2014

City announces new police contract agreement

Posted By on Tue, Feb 4, 2014 at 7:30 PM

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 repeatedly 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. At this step, the ombudsman can request, but not require, officers to answer his questions.
  • Previous versions of the new contract had allowed the commission to order further investigation if the ombudsman and chief could not agree about whether IA had done a thorough enough job. Now, 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.

On other issues, the agreement adds a fifth year and maintains the 2 percent-per-year pay raises initially agreed to from 2012 to 2015. In 2016, guild members receive no pay increase but will see an increase in their deferred compensation, a 401k-like retirement plan.

“This agreement includes the elements requested by the City Council and the public, and delivers to the community unprecedented independent oversight of its police department,” Mayor David Condon said in a statement announcing the new agreement today.

Council President Ben Stuckart, one of the mayor's most outspoken critics on this issue, praised the new agreement this week, saying the mayor took the council's demands into consideration and negotiated a contract that satisfies a charter amendment voters approved in February 2012 calling for a "totally independent" ombudsman.

"I believe this new tentative agreement satisfies our request and takes a step forward for our community," Stuckart said in the city's announcement of the agreement.

But the agreement remains unsatisfactory to the activists who've long been pushing the city on this issue.

"This TA does not reflect the vision of independent investigations," says Liz Moore, director of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane. "We remain committed to real independent investigations and an ombudsman with a true and robust role."

For Moore and other police oversight advocates, that "true and robust role" of the ombudsman must take place completely outside of the Internal Affairs process. That, she believes, is what voters were asking for with the charter amendment approved in 2012, known as Proposition 1, and what the Use of Force Commission was recommending in its report about improvements the department should make.

From that report:

As a function of human nature, individuals who are part of a group are more likely to favor the interests of the group over “outsiders.” In the context of an investigation into a fellow group member’s alleged misconduct, the peer investigator is apt to be more selective about the investigation’s scope and depth, and may be inclined to avoid a transparent process. All of this behavior can compromise the quality of the investigation and negatively impact the public’s trust in the process and the institution. Conversely, the more independent the investigator, the more likely the investigation will be perceived to be credible to those involved and to the general public.

Moore and others are members of a group called the Spokane Police Accountability Reform Coalition, which has released a "citizens alternative" agreement, outlining an ombudsman who is completely separate from Internal Affairs. But the council's growing support for this latest plan means it appears unlikely they'll send the mayor back to bargaining.

"This is fundamentally all about whether the people of Spokane can regain confidence in City Hall and the police department on police accountability," says SPARC member Tim Connor. "It's dispiriting that we're here, but we hope we can get them to change their minds."

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

In its announcement today, the city also released an ordinance that would implement the new roles of the ombudsman office. However, in Monday's City Council briefing session, Stuckart said he hoped to defer the ordinance indefinitely and only vote on the agreement at next week's council meeting, so it remains unclear whether the ordinance will be voted on alongside the agreement Monday or postponed.

Here's the full agreement:

Spokane Police Guild Feb 2014 TA

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About The Author

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...