Police Accountability

photo of police cars driving down the roadThe Center for Justice Police Accountability Program and our partners in the Spokane Police Accountability and Reform Coalition (SPARC) advocate strongly for:

  • Independent civilian oversight of law enforcement;
  • Independent and timely investigations of and public reporting on law enforcement conduct and policy;
  • Law enforcement accountability and transparency;
  • Full implementation of the Crisis Intervention Team model;
  • De-escalation practices;
  • De-militarization of law enforcement; and
  • Full implementation of community-oriented policing.

Our approach is multi-faceted: We research, draft and advocate for the adoption of local laws and policies that advance the mission above, we provide oversight on the implementation of such laws and policies, we vigorously represent individuals whose rights have been violated by law enforcement, and we educate and empower community members.

Our Police Accountability Program largely began in March 2006, when a member of our community who suffered from mental illness was senselessly beaten to death by a member of the Spokane Police Department. The victim’s name was Otto Zehm and the Center for Justice represented his family in a civil suit against the City.  The resulting Settlement demanded that all Spokane police officers complete Crisis Intervention Team training, in an effort to prevent future excessive use of force incidents.  A federal jury found the officer who killed Zehm, Karl Thompson, guilty of excessive use of force and lying to investigators about the incident.

Since the death of Otto Zehm, additional members of our community have suffered at the hands of law enforcement, reinforcing the need for our Police Accountability Program. In response to these incidents, the Center for Justice and our partners have placed persistent pressure on the City to create an Office of Police Ombudsman that has the authority to independently investigate complaints against police officers.  Our research, legal analyses, proposed legislation, public testimony and community outreach have resulted in a series of ordinances and a Charter Amendment to Article 16, that created the Office and have expanded the Ombudsman’s authority.  We will continue to work to create the most effective model of independent civilian oversight that is possible.

Other accomplishments and progress include:

  • In 2012, the Mayor appointed a Use of Force Commission to examine SPD’s use of force policies, procedures, practices and customs, as well as explore the issues of civilian oversight and the role of the City’s legal department in use of force cases. The Center for Justice provided valuable testimony to Commissioners as they were writing their Use of Force Commission Final Report. The Report laid out 26 Recommendations. We will continue to monitor implementation of those recommendations.
  • In 2013, Department of Justice initiated a Technical Assistance Review of our Spokane Police Department. The Center for Justice participated in multiple meetings with DOJ and their consultants as they developed their recommendations. We are committed to reviewing and monitoring implementation of those recommendations when they are released.
  • We actively track ‘use of force’ incidents and complaints to identify patterns and to ensure that victims have access to justice.
  • We won the 2013 Contribution to Oversight Award for advancing civilian oversight of the Spokane Police Department from NACOLE (National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement).
  • We served as a host organization for the US-Russia Social Expertise Exchange Program: Rule of Law and Community. Eurasia placed a Russian Intern at CFJ for the purpose of understanding the role of different parties involved in the implementation of Spokane’s civilian oversight model. The Russian Intern synthesized her information with other Interns placed in different locales for examples of civilian oversight models.

For more information or to get involved, please contact us at 509-835-5211.