Council unanimously passes major reform for civilian oversight of Spokane Police Department. Mayor wins votes for key sustainability plan.

In a major victory for reform advocates, the Spokane City Council Monday unanimously adopted major changes to its police oversight ordinance. Under the new ordinance, the Office of Police Ombudsman (OPO) that the city created two years ago would now have powers to initiate and conduct investigations into citizen complaints.

Police accountability activist Shonto Pete, speaking at a rally last winter.

Up until now, the OPO could only passively monitor Spokane Police Department internal affairs investigations and appeal to the department to improve them if they were determined to be inadequate. Under the new ordinance passed last night, however, the OPO can immediately begin to gather information and do interviews when it receives a citizen complaint.

Spokespersons for the coalition of 12 local citizen groups working on police accountability hailed the vote as a major step forward, even though both activists and members of the council pointed out that the goal of a completely independent police ombudsman office has yet to be achieved.

A key difference in tonight’s debate concerned whether the Ombudsman could compel the police department to open an internal affairs investigation into a citizen complaint. The coalition and councilman Bob Apple vigorously argued for such language, but the council voted 6 to 1 to leave it out.

Tonight’s marathon meeting rambled into Tuesday morning. But in a high profile victory for Mayor Mary Verner, the council voted 5-2 shortly before midnight to adopt a clean/energy sustainability plan for the city that was bitterly opposed by members of a local Tea Party organization.


The Mayor’s signing statement, released this afternoon:


June 29, 2010

Contact:    Marlene Feist
Public Affairs Officer
(509) 625-6740


Spokane Mayor Mary Verner today said she will sign the ordinance adopted by the Spokane City Council on Monday, June 28, that updates the authorities and responsibilities of the City’s Police Ombudsman.

“I want to commend the City Council, the City Attorney’s Office, and the community members who worked so diligently to find a path ahead on this important issue,” the Mayor said.  “For me, the creation of the Ombudsman office always has been about devising a comprehensive system of civilian oversight that provides accountability and ultimately earns the trust of citizens.  Today, we have an improved system.”

The revised ordinance provides the Office of Police Ombudsman with independent investigatory authority and requires the office provide closing reports about complaints. These reports will include a summary of the OPO’s conclusions and recommendations regarding revision of policies, procedures, or training.

The revised ordinance also clarifies ambiguous language and formalizes that complaints can originate with the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit or with the Ombudsman.

Attached is the revised ordinance.  Additional information about the Office of Police Ombudsman is found at Here’s the new ordinance.

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