Ombudsman to report to commission, some worry too reliant on SPD



Posted on February 11, 2014 at 10:57 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 12 at 11:45 AM

SPOKANE, Wash.--One of the biggest hurdles for the City of Spokane has been to create an independent way for the public to hold the police department accountable.

City leaders pointed to a major change in how the police department will review any concerns from the public compared to just a couple of years ago. They admitted there is still a difference from what some expected in the agreement and what the public ultimately got.

The Spokane police ombudsman was created to give the public a separate way to check on the police department and hold it accountable.

"I just want him to have that independent authority to ask those right questions, to be our advocate,” said Steve Salvatori with the Spokane City Council.

Council members like Salvatori pushed for a ballot initiative to change the City charter. They called for an office of the police ombudsman to report directly to a separate commission made up of the public and given the ability to investigate independently.

"I did not intend to build a separate courthouse, have a whole separate infrastructure, have a whole separate venue,” said Salvatori.

Some still think what the City Council approved seven to zero on Monday night is not enough.

The ombudsman will report to a commission but some worry the ombudsman is still too dependent on the police department. The commission can order independent investigations when internal affairs have not gone far enough or if internal affairs decline to open an investigation.

"To really get where some people in the public want to get, we would actually have to change state law,” said Salvatori.

Late in 2013, both the Police Chief and the Mayor said they had gone as far as they could to meet the demands of the public.

Councilman Salvatori agrees. He admitted it is not perfect but he thinks it is as good as the City can do for now and the public should try it.

"We've got something here that I'm proud of, I think if it's not the best civilian oversight mechanism in the country, certainly one of,” said Salvatori.

The police guild or union still needed to approve the agreement in mid February. They were set to vote on it at the end of the month.