In April 2023, Spokane City Council discussed a resolution that would allow the Office of Police Ombudsman to launch independent investigations into complaints made against the chief of police. The calls for independent investigation stem from the OPO report released December 2022 which detail the obstacles the OPO faced—including police refusal for interviews and Internal Affairs thrice refusal to fully investigate—as well as what then City Council President Breann Beggs described as a “shadow public advocacy campaign” between the Chief of Police and select business owners. The Mayor, then the only person with the responsibility to investigate allegations against the Chief of Police, refused to authorize an investigation–even after the City Council passed a resolution calling on her to do so to comply with the Spokane Municipal Code. Ten days later Chief of Police Craig Meidl donated to Mayor Woodward’s re-election campaign.

Due to the Mayor’s refusal to take appropriate action, the City Council June 12, 2023 passed an emergency ordinance allowing the OPO to investigate the Chief of Police—a small, much needed expansion of OPO investigative abilities. But less than three weeks later, the OPO’s powers were crippled. Their ability to independently investigate a complaint is now beholden to approval by the Chief (or designee) “as to whether or not the complaint will be investigated.” What happened?


When was the most recent restriction of the Office of Police Ombudsman’s powers?

Thursday June 29, 2023 Spokane City Council held an off-cycle special legislative session during the middle of the day. During this session, Council unanimously passed OPR 2023-0654, otherwise known as the Spokane Police Guild Agreement. This Agreement “shall remain in full force” from January 2023 through December 2026, with no termination possible “before the expiration of this contract.” Over 17 pages of this contract with the Spokane Police Guild dictate the powers and supposed independence of Civilian Review through the Office of the Police Ombudsman, and many changes occurred June 29th.


What is the Office of Police Ombudsman?

The Spokane City Charter refers to the Office of Police Ombudsman as “totally independent”, established to “provide visible, professional, independent civilian oversight of police officers.” This addition to the city charter reflects Spokane voters’ beliefs, who in 2013 overwhelmingly voted for police oversight to have the independent ability to investigate civilian complaints.

But the OPO has struggled to fulfill its independent duties from its inception. A 2018 AP News article describes how the Spokane Police Guild continues to block independent oversight by opposing OPO legally-mandated access to investigations, refusing to release use-of-force data, and interfering with the OPO’s independence. A 2021 ACLU article highlighted the challenges Spokane’s OPO has had to remain independent, stating “[t]he people of Spokane did not vote for an oversight system where the Ombudsman is told by police when and how to investigate or what can be revealed to the public.”


How does the OPO handle citizen complaints against police misconduct?

This contract with the police guild orders the OPO to explain the three main “potential processes” to resolve the citizen’s complaint: mediation, forwarding the complaint to Internal Affairs, or requesting an OPO-led investigation (of an IA-forwarded complaint). None of these processes are likely to result in discipline of an officer, and two of these processes (a potential IA investigation and a requested OPO-led investigation) require the approval of the Chief of Police in order to take place.



Mediation—the Office of Police Ombudsman process with the least amount of edits in the latest Police Guild Agreement—“will be utilized rather than sending the matter on for investigation” if the Police “Department, the complainant and the officer all agree to mediation.” There will be no “disciplinary finding…against the officer” and they “will not be subject to discipline” as long as they act in good faith during mediation; “good faith means that the officer listens and considers the issues raised by the complainant, and acts and responds appropriately. Agreement…is not a requirement of good faith.” In addition to an absolution of discipline, the Spokane Police Guild Agreement censures what the OPO is allowed to write in their mediation report: “only…whether the officer participated in good faith and if the matter was resolved. Identification…will not be included.”


Forward or Forward a Complaint to Internal Affairs

The Spokane Police Guild Agreement dictates all complaints alleging criminal police conduct—so the very serious complaints—the OPO receives be forwarded to their Internal Affairs department “within ten business days of the initial interview.” Spokane’s contract with the police limits the complaints the OPO can act upon “not…concerning events that occurred more than one year prior” or not more than five years prior if alleging “serious misconduct that could result in termination.” In any case, the OPO is hamstrung and “will not conduct separate disciplinary investigations” while “the chief or their designee will determine whether or not the complaint will be investigated” at all.

If the OPO objects to the Chief of Police’s refusal to investigate the criminal conduct the OPO already sent to IA, the police contract time-gates the OPO to “advise IA in writing” within “ten business days” of their objection. Again, the Chief of Police has final authority to grant an (IA initiated) investigation or not.

If the OPO determines a complaint “should not be forwarded to IA, the OPO shall forward to IA its determination as well as the name of any complainant and/or witnesses.” So even if a complaint will not be investigated, the police receive the complainant’s name and information anyway, as initially explained to the citizen as part of the “potential processes”. The OPO cannot be considered independent while its information is beholden to the police guild’s whims and while their ability to have complaints investigated is hampered by time limits the Police Guild imposes.


OPO led OPO Independent Investigation (OLOII)

The process with the most edits in the latest Spokane Police Guild Agreement regards the OPO’s ability to request permission from the Chief of Police “that the complaint be considered for an ‘OPO led’ OPO independent investigation (‘OLOII’).” This fundamentally cannot be an independent investigation into police misconduct, if the “independent” entity investigating needs permission from whom they are investigating, in order to conduct any investigation.

Additionally, “no discipline may result from an OLOII” and if there is an OPO led investigation, the complaint “cannot be investigated elsewhere.” Despite not being investigated elsewhere, the OPO does not have power to fully investigate, as police “employees shall not be compelled to provide a statement.” If officers refuse to testify, such as was the case referenced in the OPO’s December 2022 report, there will simply be no testimony.

The OPO’s closing report is again censured by those they are investigating: the Ombudsman “may publish a closing report so long as the closing report does not identify specific members of the Department and does not in any way comment on officer discipline (or lack thereof). The closing report will identify the author(s)…the report will not determine whether there has been a violation of the law or policy or recommended discipline.” Again the Spokane Police Guild Agreement, with its recent edits, now time caps the supposedly independent OPO by demanding “an OLOII will be completed within 180 days of the beginning of the OLOII.”

This time cap is especially insidious as the Office of Police Ombudsman Commission’s 2018 complaint against Chief Meidl primarily concerned SPD’s six month continued impedance against an OPO investigation. This complaint has not been resolved, as seen in the Office of Police Ombudsman Commission’s 2019 Annual Report, “SPD continuously interferes with the OPO’s independence by hindering its ability to perform its duties.”


Who composes the Office of Police Ombudsman Commission?

 The Police Ombudsman Commission is composed of both an Ombudsman, and a Deputy Ombudsman, who oversee the OPO. The Ombudsman is chosen by a five-member committee. This committee is composed of a member appointed by the Spokane Police Officers Guild, a member appointed by the Lieutenants and Captains Association, a member appointed by the Mayor, a member appointed by the President of Spokane City Council, and the final member selected by the other four members–half of whom were chosen by police groups. The City’s contract with the Spokane Police Guild states this very biased committee will submit three names for Ombudsman–”one of which must be selected.”

New edits approved by City Council June 29th lay the same format for Deputy Ombudsman, with half the original committee members being chosen by the Spokane Police Officers Guild and the Lieutenants and Captains Association respectively.


How is any of this independent?

The City approved a contract with the Spokane Police Guild dictating what the Office of the Police Ombudsman—described by the Spokane Municipal Code that created it to “reassure the public that investigations into complaints and allegations of police misconduct are conducted in a timely, thorough, and object manner”—can and cannot say, let alone who they can and cannot investigate. The Chief of Police (or designee) needs to give their permission when the OPO asks to lead the investigation on complaints—an investigation that cannot compel testimony, cannot result in any discipline, cannot identify the officers investigated in their closing report, and has no authority to correct the systemic interference it faces. This is not independent. This is not the oversight 70% of Spokane voters demanded a decade ago.

During the special legislative session City Council approved this contract, several council members mentioned it was their duty to ask the difficult questions. Current City Council President Kinnear said, “As Council Member Wilkerson said, we are obliged to ask the tough questions because citizens ask us and if we don’t have the answers–there we are standing with ‘I’m sorry we can’t answer you because we haven’t asked the questions ourselves.’” But nothing was questioned–or even mentioned–about this further degradation of OPO independent powers.

We need the OPO and Commission to be independent from police influence, to be able to investigate complaints they determine need investigation, to publish reports that aren’t censored by the investigated party.