City sets public meetings to discuss ombudsman commission

click to enlarge City sets public meetings to discuss ombudsman commission
Current Police Ombudsman Tim Burns will soon answer to a five-member citizen commission.

City Attorney Nancy Isserlis will lead two public meetings to discuss details of the soon-to-be-created Office of Police Ombudsman Commission, Mayor David Condon announced today.

The meetings will be April 28 at noon and April 29 at 5 pm. Both will be in the City Council Briefing Center at City Hall.

The OPO Commission was established as part of the most recent changes to police oversight in Spokane. Under the changes, the ombudsman will continue to participate in the Spokane Police Department's Internal Affairs process, but in cases where he or she believes the department is not adequately investigating, the five-member OPO Commission will be able to demand further investigation or call in a third party to look at the case.

While the changes brought mixed reactions from the public, the mayor continues to laud them as "unprecedented citizen oversight" of the police department.

We asked the mayor late last month if he worried about jeopardizing the independence of the process by appointing his city attorney to lead the process. He said such concerns were why he and the police department will not be participating in the meetings, but "the other reality is who is going to? There's some that say why are you doing it at all. I would worry that we wouldn't be moving ahead at all. ... Nancy has a tradition and a respect that she'll take it in a way that she facilitates it. It doesn't mean that she's going to decide it."

When the Spokane City Council approved the latest police guild contract earlier this year, it also passed an ordinance outlining the basic framework of the commission. Two of the five members will be appointed by the mayor and the other three will be appointed by the city council with one from each council district. (As with most city boards and commissions, a majority of the city council must vote to approve each of the five members.) Members must be current city residents who are at least 21 years old. They cannot be current or former city or SPD employees (or immediate family of current city or SPD employees), and must be "able to establish a reputation for even-handedness in dealing with both complainants and the regulated parties," according to the law. The ordinance also says members must pass a background check and have no convictions within the last seven years for "crimes involving dishonesty or moral turpitude."

The public meetings will focus on details not explicitly outlined in the new law, like exactly what kind of background check should be used, what questions should be on the application and what details should be included in the confidentiality agreement the law mandates commission members sign. Isserlis says the one-hour, "free-flowing" meetings will also address more general discussions of what types of applicants the city should seek in order to get enough diversity among the group. She will also use the meetings as a chance to remind potential applicants that all application materials and the results of background checks will be public records.

Isserlis says she is also meeting with members of the Use of Force Commission and Regional Criminal Justice Commission separately to hear their suggestions. After the meetings, she will send her recommendations to the mayor and city council, who will begin appointing commission members by July.

"I hope that everybody can make time in the day to come down and weigh in on this because the seating of the inaugural members for this is really critical," Isserlis says. "I think it has to be a good group of solid citizens to make this commission work."

UPDATE: We've added the current draft of the OPO Commission application below. This is one of the items that will be discussed at the public meetings.

Draft OPO Commission Application