After four years of negotiating the city of Spokane is set to adopt a new police contract on Monday.
The contract has garnered praise from most city leaders, but some fear it still gives the Spokane Police Guild too much power over the office voters approved to oversee police misconduct.
In 2013 Spokane city voters approved a charter amendment which gives an ombudsman authority to independently investigate complaints of police misconduct and publish reports about what he finds. Some say the city has not complied with its charter since it was adopted, in part because of the contracts with the labor union that represents police officers. Previous contracts and proposals have put restrictions on what the ombudsmen is allowed to release, and limited when and how he can investigate misconduct.
Police Ombudsman Bart Logue says the new contract is much closer to the charter than a draft Mayor Nadine Woodward proposed last summer. That was unanimously rejected by the city council.
“This agreement actually moves us forward,” Logue said. “I don’t think it takes us all the way to where the charter says we need to be, but I also was not part of the agreement between the city and the guild that says it did. It doesn’t take us backwards and I think it’s important we don’t give up ground in civilian review.”
The contract the city council is currently considering allows Logue to initiate some investigations and gives him the ability to publish reports with a statement of facts and policy recommendations. There are restrictions on what conclusions he can draw, and his ability to name the officers involved.
“It really just stops short of where the public I think would like me to say, I think the officer did something wrong,” Logue said. “This agreement stops short of allowing me to do that.”
This contract is retroactive and will cover from 2017 to the end of this year. In a few months Spokane City leaders will begin negotiations on a new contract that will be in effect for the next several years.
Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said he believes the new contract the closest the city can get to complying with the charter until state law is changed. He supports a bill sponsored by Spokane Senator Andy Billig that reduces the influence collective bargaining has over police oversight.
“Arguably there are certain things we can’t do without the guild’s agreement,” Beggs said. “Of course you can always bargain for that, but what we really need are some changes in state law that say some of these issues should not be bargained.”
The contract has also drawn criticism from justice advocates.
Kurtis Robinson is the executive director of advocacy group I did the Time and a member of the Smart Justice Coalition. He takes issue with the ombudsmen’s inclusion in the contract on principle, saying the police guild should not have any influence over that job.
“If there’s going to be anything on the table it needs to be in good faith by doing everything they can to expand and enhance his ability,” Robinson said.
Liz Moore, director of the Peace and Justice Action League and also a member of the Smart Justice Coalition, said she had similar concerns about the guild’s sway over police oversight. She also supports Billig’s bill, and says some improvements, such as reducing the guild’s influence over hiring the ombudsmen, may need to wait until the next contract.
“I think that the practical thing to do probably is move forward to the next round of negotiations and to make sure that negotiation continues the precedent set by this one which is improvements rather than making it worse,” Moore said.
Spokane City Council is scheduled to vote on the contract during its 6 p.m. legislative meeting Monday. In person attendance is still not allowed due to COVID-19 restrictions but the public can watch the meeting on the city’s website or by tuning into City Cable 5.