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Ombudsman Resigns after 5 Years of Slow Progress in Police

The citizen’s protector within the police department has left the building. Spokane’s first Police Ombudsman, Tim Burns, resigned in December for a job in California. Burns was hired as the first ombudsman just a few years after Otto Zehm’s death at the hands of police rattled people’s trust in law enforcement.

A five member committee will hire his successor, with one member chosen by each the mayor, city council, police guild, lieutenants and captains association, and the committee will pick the final member.

His five and a half years on the job were marked by police reform, or at least the start of reform. Police Chief Frank Straub had positive things to say upon Burns’ departure, though the ombudsman’s job is to keep the chief in check.

Straub: “Tim was a strong advocate for the Spokane community. I think he did his job exceptionally well, and I think he’s created some pretty big shoes that need to be filled.”

Burns was ombudsman during debate over how much power the role should have. He waited two years to get a police ombudsman commission, which just recently started meeting. The next police ombudsman will have a lot to pick up on. For one, the independent Use-Of-Force Commission will give final recommendations for the department this spring. As that wraps up, the department faces 42 new Department of Justice recommendations.

Mayor David Condon, says the next ombudsman should have knowledge of state law and the city charter.

Condon: “We are, as a city, a leader in police transparency and police oversight and this is an opportunity to continue moving us forward in that area.”

Burns has family in California and recently has split his time between working in Spokane and visiting the golden state. His last day was Friday.

Copyright 2014 Spokane Public Radio

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