The Spokane City Council is meeting to consider a resolution of reform actions for Spokane PD. I sent the following letter to the City Council:
February 6, 2012
President and City Council
City of Spokane
RE: Council Resolution RES-2012-0017 – Reform of the Police Department
By way of introduction my name is Ron Wright. I am a retired police detective from Southern California having served almost thirty-five years. I chose to relocate to Spokane for its many fine attributes. I was a two-term president of a large police union. I have taught criminal justice including community oriented policing, controversial issues in law enforcement and forensics and crime scene investigations at the college level. I have a master of public administration from the Univ of Cal, Riverside and a political science degree from Cal State Univ. Fullerton.
I have followed some of these local problematic officer involved shootings/deaths (OIS/OID) from both my academic interest and also for clients that have not been satisfied with the actions of local law enforcement. In my opinion there are indeed issues with the police rank and file however the real problem lies with inept, incompetent and or corrupt police leaders that have failed to take action.
The job of a police officer is very difficult indeed requiring split second decisions. Inevitably mistakes will be made, as police officers are only human. In Spokane there is a pattern of covering up mistakes to minimize public liability. Elected leaders have buried their heads in the sand and or were so shaking in their boots of what the Guild might politically do also failed to act. The Spokane Police Guild circled the wagons, “them vs. us [citizens].” It would have been cheaper in the long run to we the taxpayers to simply acknowledge and to apologize when mistakes were made, learn from them, take action to ensure that they don’t happen again.
I recently wrote Mayor Condon with my recommendations of how to bring about real change quickly within the SPD (attached). I have expanded upon those recommendations and they are attached.
In the end the community and the police must trust each other – we are the police and the police are us.
We are a nation of laws and no one even the police SHOULD BE ABOVE THE LAW.
My recommendations are based on my experience and education of what I believe will bring about the change we all desire in the shortest amount of time.
The City Council by resolution join with Mayor Condon in requesting that the US Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights initiate a pattern and practice investigation of the Spokane Police Department.
The City Council by resolution call upon US Attorney Michael Ormsby to expand the current criminal investigation into the death of Otto Zehm to include any who were complicit and or aided and abetted in the over cover-up and to prosecute them where possible for obstruction of justice.
There should be no discussion of any consolidation of the SO/SPD until the remedying of the immediate problems with SPD are well under way.
The City Council by resolution call upon the Spokane County Board of Commissioners to require all officer involved shootings and deaths (OIS/OIDs) be reviewed by an inquest panel once the OIS/OID criminal investigation is handed of to the Co Prosecutor for review. This inquest panel under existing law will be presided over by a superior court judge under the rule of law and evidence in front of a random jury pulled by the existing jury pool. This action will bring the real change and transparency of these investigations quickly without requiring any MOU negotiations with the Spokane Police Guild and or increasing the authority of the SPD Ombudsman.
The City Council by resolution call upon the Mayor to immediately order a top down review of the SPD academy’s curriculum especially the use of force training/instruction. In some of these recent problematic OIS/OIDs cases, the officers through poor police tactics created the exigent circumstances that lead to the use of lethal force. From the testimony at the Thompson trial, the current SPD instructors should be reassigned.
What we are discussing is the difference between the rules of engagement (ROE) of our military in an active war zone and that of civilian law enforcement in a civil society.
In the end to be effective the community and the police must trust each other – we are the police and the police are us. We are a nation of laws and no one even the police SHOULD BE ABOVE THE LAW.
Make it a top priority to hire a new police chief quickly. This chief should be a change agent. His/her contract should be for no longer than two-years to weed out those who are not willing to change. Then a chief can be hired for a longer term. A chief that is a strong leader but also is a consensus builder that can bring the department back together again and also secure the trust of the community once again.
In addition to requiring the use of personal lapel video cameras I recommend that dash cameras with audio be installed too. Until the technology is available to record a full shift, I would recommend that these dash cameras be set on an endless loop at whatever length is currently practical e.g., as is done for current commercial aviation cockpit recorders.
Background investigations should not be hurried in the hiring of new or lateral transfer police officers. The fact that a candidate comes from another state with extensive police experience should not lesson the need for in-depth investigations of the employment history of these candidates at their former employers.
Currently because of staffing levels the SPD Record’s Unit informs people making PDR requests that it will take up to 90 days to respond. The queue is on a first come first serve basis. In my opinion this is not in compliance with the existing WA Public Records Law and is an open invitation to suit and possible punitive sanctions against the City of Spokane.