SPOKANE, Wash. - The position of Ombudsman was created to keep the police department accountable after the 2006 beating death of Otto Zehm. Complaints to the Ombudsman's officer were up during 2012, and Ombudsman Tim Burns says it is because more people are aware of the position.
Monday night, Burns presented his annual report to the Spokane City Council, detailing police actions within the last year. And there were some interesting figures. While most numbers, including those for SWAT activations, domestic violence calls and vehicle pursuits were similar to 2011 there was one glaring exception: mental health contacts made by officers in 2012 nearly tripled from the year before. Burns cited better training of officers as the reason why mental health issues have become more recognizable. The presentation also included a progress report on the 8 recommendations made by the Ombudsman last year that included the publishing of Internal Affairs reports and the hiring of a Communications Director. One of the biggest issues highlighted was the lack of resources and officers that is having an impact on police responses to calls. In the report, Burns also made 4 recommendations for the upcoming year: The creation of a special investigator position in the prosecutors office. Improving service delivery for public records requests. Developing an inquest process for the medical examiner. And the implementation of a school resource officer program. Burns is hoping a partnership with the School District will allow them to bring back the Resource Officer program, which was a victim of budget cuts in 2006. He concedes that with the lack of funds it will be hard to implement all of these suggestions, but the hiring of more officers right now should be the priority.