Independent Oversight FAQ

why_independent_oversightTo the Spokane County Community:

Last month, over a thousand signatures were delivered to the County Commissioner’s Office requesting that they enact an ordinance providing independent oversight for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. These signatures were not from a specific political group or party.  Citizens just like you from all walks of life formed a coalition built on principle to bring about a collaborative and constructive voice to police oversight in our community and for our Sheriff’s Office, a great deal of which has been misunderstood.

What is independent oversight?
Either in the form of an Ombudsman or a Citizen’s Panel, it is a mechanism staffed by citizens who review the findings of internal police investigations independent of the Sheriff’s Office. They are not members of the Sheriff’s Office nor are they commissioned law enforcement officers. They can review and make public their findings as well as the findings of the Sheriff’s Office. They may also review information provided to them from parties other than the Sheriff’s Office. They work for you, on your behalf.

Doesn’t a system like this shift the power to discipline deputies from the Sheriff to the Ombudsman or Panel?
No. Independent oversight has no authority to circumvent anything the Sheriff’s Office does or decides to do. The Sheriff’s Office would continue to conduct investigations and sanction or uphold their deputies as they have in the past. The Ombudsman or Panel would provide to the citizens a comparative analysis of their investigation and the investigation of the Sheriff’s Office. In most instances, these are the same. However, in instances where they are not, public officials may be able to quickly address the observed deficiencies and restore public confidence.

How much will this cost the taxpayer?
Not very much. Recent media reports quoting public officials say that it may cost as little as $250,000 a year. To put this into perspective, Spokane County would spend more on animal control each year than independent oversight.

Don’t we already have a Citizen’s Oversight Panel?
No. Many years ago, the Sheriff’s Office formed a Citizen’s Advisory Committee. It was intended to provide the Sheriff’s Office general insight into community affairs. Although still in operation today, none of the members are specifically trained to understand complex police investigations or officer-involved shootings. These are also politically appointed by the Sheriff’s Office and serve at the pleasure of the sitting Sheriff. To form an official conclusion, they rely solely on the information provided them from the Sheriff’s Office.

Creating independent oversight for the Sheriff’s Office is not about exposing poor performance. Moreover, it is about promoting the fine work that the Sheriff’s Office does while providing citizens with the representative government and transparency they deserve. Our community is sadly behind the times as many other counties have embraced independent oversight. Join us in making Spokane County proud of their law enforcement, elected officials, and public servants. Support independent oversight for Spokane County by calling your County Commissioner today, at 509-477-5722.


Robert Lee