Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Police ombudsman recommends more transparency, and other takeaways from the 2017 annual report

Posted By on Wed, Apr 4, 2018 at 11:44 AM

In his second annual report as the person tasked with overseeing the Spokane Police Department, Ombudsman Bart Logue has a few suggestions.

Let supervisors and the ombudsman watch all body camera footage
SPD's current policy restricts supervisors' and the ombudsman's access to body camera footage. Only footage connected to a specific incident, such as use of force or questionable behavior, is fair game.

The policy specifically states that "review of video shall be related to the specific complaint(s) and not used as the basis to randomly search for other possible violations."

Logue recommends that those overseeing officers' work have "access to the entire video for review, in order to audit officer actions, improve transparency between SPD and supervising officers, improve training and increase early intervention of potential problems."

Update the policy regarding transgender people
Logue recommends that the SPD review its discrimination policy along with the LGBTQ community.

"In keeping with community policing principles, consulting with the LGBTQ community can  help diffuse a potential volatile situation, and it may provide feedback on policy development," Logue writes.

He notes that the department is considering this recommendation, and has already updated the portion of its selection and hiring standards.

Proactively release cases of interest to the public
Logue points to two investigations into officer misconduct, the first initiated in January 2016, but wasn't released until February 2017. The second was initiated in January 2017, and released in May 2017.

"To the average citizen, who many only pay attention to news headlines, it would appear that SPD had two newsworthy cases of misconduct only three months apart which could easily be averted should SPD release community impact cases to the public in a timely manner," Logue writes. "This will foster trust between the public and SPD and signal to the community that SPD's leadership will act accordingly when these instances arise."

Post internal investigations online again
Spokane police used to post internal affairs investigations on its website. In the spring of 2016, the department quietly scrubbed the documents and then replaced them with watered-down summaries. No names. Few details.

"Based on community expectations, the ombudsman recommended that SPD reinstate the practice requiring entire IA cases that are properly redacted and posted on its web page again, once the case has been closed," Logue writes. "Furthermore, the ombudsman recommended posting any accompanying [body-worn camera] footage as part of the file."

Update the use of force policy
Some local uses of deadly force have sparked debate over the distinction between when an officer is permitted to use force and when it's necessary, Logue writes in the annual report. A discussion for how exactly to rework SPD's policy is ongoing.

"Catalysts for policy change should not hinge on whether the prosecutor decides to bring charges on an officer," Logue writes. "Policy directs training, which in turn affects culture. Police departments that question the legitimacy of its policies and the impact on the community it serves are positively received by the community."

Logue writes optimistically about Chief Craig Meidl's willingness to collaborate on revising the use of force policy to "reduce the utilization of force, particularly deadly force, while simultaneously increasing the safety of officers within his department."


Complaints from the community went down again
From 66 in 2016 to 56 in 2017, down from 202 in 2013. Internal complaints, those generated from within the department, remained relatively steady.

Logue declined to certify 18 cases
Reasons vary from lack of documentation, failure to investigate the complaint completely, administrative error and "lack of investigative effort."

Logue says he was falsely accused of leaking documents
"An outgoing internal affairs investigator falsely accused the ombudsman of leaking internal police documents relating to the exposure of a demeanor concern within the department," Logue writes in the annual report. "Numerous investigative probes and investigative documents designed to push blame and discredit the ombudsman were conducted despite numerous oral statements and a signed written statement provided to them."

Logue believes the tension that resulted from the accusation has given him "insight into how the Police Department can operate, and it provided a clear view that the road to true transparency will be rocky."

Notably, Logue writes that the quality of internal affairs investigations have improved.

Logue wants the authority to voice his opinion
City law currently restricts the ombudsman's ability to say anything about an investigation beyond stamps of approval as timely, thorough and objective. Logue and members of City Council discussed how to tweak the municipal code in order to allow the ombudsman to write "closing reports," but that process has stalled. Changes would likely need to be bargained with the Spokane Police Guild.

"A step forward in future ordinance revisions would be to give the ability to the [ombudsman] to write reports, if we feel it would be impactful," Logue writes in the annual report. "There are times when the community is looking for answers that the [ombudsman] readily has, yet the [ombudsman] is prohibited from speaking openly on these  matters."

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Mitch Ryals

Mitch covers cops, crime and courts for the Inlander. He moved to Spokane in 2015 from his hometown of St. Louis, and is a graduate of the University of Missouri. He likes bikes, beer and baseball. And coffee. He dislikes lemon candy, close-mindedness and liars. And temperatures below 40 degrees.