Overdue Police Contract Okayed by City, Critics Still Unhappy

By Paige Browning/Steve Jackson

About two years after the Spokane Police Department’s labor contract expired, the city has approved a new version. Monday, the Spokane City Council voted 6-to-1 in favor of a five-year labor contract and related city ordinance, issued by the Mayor and guild leadership.

Previous drafts got criticism from the public and city council itself for not properly including guidelines for police ombudsman investigations. Police oversight has been a hot topic in Spokane since a police altercation led to the death of Otto Zehm in 2006. Monday night council members said the new contract significantly improves citizen oversight of the police department.

Council President Ben Stuckart sent a letter to the mayor last month asking for changes to the agreement. Now, Stuckart says he is happy that 90-percent of what he asked for is in the police contract.
 
Stuckart: “And whether you agree that this agreement contains what you want or not, it is a true statement that this is one of the strongest civilian oversights to be implemented in the United States.”
 
Still, police reform advocates argue that the contract limits when the ombudsman can investigate misconduct independently from the police internal affairs unit. Nearly everyone who testified opposed the deal, including veteran journalist Tim Connor.
 
Connor: “Under this agreement it is only in the most extreme circumstances, after the department’s internal affairs unit has failed three times to do an adequate investigation, that the ombudsman can even be requested to conduct an independent investigation.”
 
Connor says this authority is not what voters meant when they approved proposition one a year ago this week, and may not meet the Use of Force Commission’s recommendations either. A call to the commission chair was not returned by air time. We are also hoping to speak with Police Ombudsman Tim Burns, who is out of the office until Thursday.

The police guild membership has the final say on the contract, and will vote this month.

[A previous story gives more detail on the contract itself.]
 
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