The Spokane Police Department doesn’t have much military equipment and it’s doesn’t intend to get any more. That’s the takeaway from a correspondence between the city’s Human Rights Commission and Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub.
In December, the commission wrote a letter to the chief raising concerns over the “militarization of the police,” a topic that rose to prominence in the unrest over the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.
Across the country, police departments have used a federal program to acquire military equipment.
Critics of this trend argue that putting more military equipment in the hands of police leads to law enforcement behaving more like an occupying army
instead of a force that’s supposed to work with communities to keep them safe.
“In Spokane, preliminary analysis suggests that people of color and low income residents have shouldered the brunt of this trend,” reads the letter. “While we understand the need for police to be prepared for the worst, we also see potential problems that can arise from funneling military equipment to local police departments. Most notably, research, that is included in this letter, has shown that increased militarization of police decreases the level of trust between the police and the community they are serving and can lead to a greater spiral of violence that disproportionately affects minority communities.”
The letter goes on to recommend the department adopt greater transparency on the type of military equipment it has received, as well as how it assess risks associated with dealing with people with mental illnesses. The letter also called on the department to track the race of primary suspects in SWAT call outs.
In January, Police Chief Frank Straub wrote back stating that the police department received ballistic helmets in the late 1990s, which are no longer in use and have been replaced by helmets purchased from police equipment suppliers.
In 2010, the department acquired a “peacekeeper,” which is used to rescue civilians and/or police officers from dangerous environments.
“The helmets and peacekeeper are the only military equipment obtained by the Spokane Police Department,” reads the letter from Straub. “We have no intention of obtaining additional equipment from the U.S. military.”
The letter also mentioned that police undergo crisis intervention training to better deal with situations involving mentally ill individuals, and that the department already tracks the race of all persons contacted by police officers.
Earlier this week, the commission discussed the response from the chief. While they praised his quick response, several members wanted more information on what other type of equipment fits the definition of “police militarization,” and to specifically address officers wearing battle dress uniforms, which resemble military garb. In the past, Councilman Mike Fagan has suggested
that having more traditional uniforms would improve relations between the police and the public.
The commission is drafting another letter to the chief.
Human Rights Commission Letter on Police Militarization
Chief Response to Human Rights Commission, Blaine Stum 010815