City Council votes to reform police

Spokane City Council members listen to testimony from Spokane Police officers and members of the public. The resolution passed by the council aims to restore integrity to the department after the much-publicized trial related to the death of Otto Zehm.

 

Spokane's City Council unanimously voted "yes" on Monday to a resolution that aims to increase transparency and accountability in the Spokane Police Department.

The resolution includes proposed reforms such as publishing internal affairs reports online, restoring some power to the police ombudsman (a liaison between the public and the police), and instituting a program to equip police officers with body cameras.

All seven City Council members approved the resolution, which was supported by a number of Spokane residents who showed up to the meeting to express their hope for a better relationship between police and civilians. Representatives from the Police Guild were also present.

Joe Walker, a lieutenant in the department who also serves as the president of the Spokane Police Lieutenant and Captain's Association, said members of the force would be attending neighborhood council meetings to help the relationship between the police and private citizens.

"We need to improve our image," he said during the meeting.

Police Guild President Ernie Wuthrich said that the Guild supported the idea of reform, but that some of the proposed changes were working conditions that need to be bargained.

One of the more costly reforms would be the initiative to buy body cameras for every officer. These body cameras, which are about the size of a pager, would record every interaction a police officer has with a member of the public. Each camera costs an estimated $800. There are more than 200 SPD officers.

John VanSant, head of Gonzaga's campus security, said in an email that the body cameras would not affect GU.

"In all likelihood, we would not have access to the footage unless it was publicly released," he said. "Nor are we particularly interested in it. It's primarily a law enforcement tool."

Since negotiations with the Police Guild have not ended, VanSant said he didn't know if the reforms would affect GU's agreement with the SPD. GU contracts with the department for extra security in the Logan Neighborhood.

The SPD has been under fire in recent years for alleged police misconduct, including an incident in 2006 when Spokane resident Otto Zehm was beaten and Tased, resulting in his death two days later. Spokane police officer Karl Thompson was recently convicted in federal court of needlessly attacking him and then lying to cover it up. The trial raised issues of police accountability that the City Council is trying to address.

VanSant said that the body camera plan is promising.

"I think the cameras have the potential to be a valuable training tool for officers. And they may improve citizen interactions," he said. "Both of those are good things."

Spokane council member Mike Allen said before the vote that everyone involved had the same goals.

"I think we're all looking for the same thing: transparency and accountability," he said.

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