Pin It
Favorite

Let the Sun Shine In 

The problem is the legal decision to keep the public’s business secret.

click to enlarge art15389.jpg

The Spokane Police Department is stuck in a ditch of bad public relations. A series of high-profile cases from Otto Zehm to Shonto Pete has the Spokane taxpaying public wondering how widespread the problem is. Are we stuck with a broken department that uses the code of silence to fend off real reform, or do we have just a few bad apples who get the punishment they deserve?

We, the media, really can’t answer that basic question. I know we have a lot of dedicated, brave officers here, but suspicion persists because the Internal Affairs reports on unsustained citizen complaints that would help us understand are kept secret.

That was the key finding of our four-month-long investigation published July 1, “Strong Arm of the Law.” Yes, the SPD’s PR problem has to do with cases of excessive force, but those are par for the course in law enforcement. It’s a tough job — really, the toughest — and every city deals with its share of such cases. The public judges how you deal with them when they inevitably happen — and how you prevent them from happening again.

In Spokane, a big part of the problem is the legal decision to keep the public’s business secret. It’s a practice unique to the City of Spokane, as law enforcement agencies all over the state, including Spokane County, make their IA reports (with appropriate redactions for privacy) available to the public.

Obviously we want our police to succeed and have the community’s trust and admiration, but why should one department be protected by a level of secrecy no other public employees enjoy? More openness will foster trust. Such secrecy also threatens the ombudsman’s credibility. How will we know if he is effective if no independent person can review the files he sees? Will the mayor ask to review every IA file? That would help, but Mary Verner could also just change the policy and release redacted versions of all IA reports.

Society functions best when the public trusts its institutions. We need that relationship of trust to be strong in the newspaper business, too, and we take it very seriously. We publish hundreds of thousands of words every week; we know we are human, and that mistakes are inevitable.

That’s why we own up to them, correct them and try to do better next time. We do this all as transparently as possible. Try it, Spokane Police. It might just agree with you.

  • Pin It

Latest in Comment

  • Hiring Among Friends
  • Hiring Among Friends

    What's wrong with this picture? Todd Mielke wants the top job in Spokane County and his colleagues get to decide
    • May 20, 2015
  • Walking to Where, Exactly?
  • Walking to Where, Exactly?

    Publisher's Note
    • May 20, 2015
  • Too Early to Tell
  • Too Early to Tell

    What's your opinion of Emily Farris? Hint: You probably shouldn't have one yet
    • May 20, 2015
  • More »

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Today | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat
Never Forget 343 Stairclimb Memoriam Reception

Never Forget 343 Stairclimb Memoriam Reception @ Mukogawa Institute

Sun., May 24, 2-5 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Ted S. McGregor Jr.

Most Commented On

  • This Old House

    If it could talk, it could tell stories of three generations, along with a lot of griping from neighbors
    • Apr 29, 2015
  • On a Roll

    Just-announced reforms do little to safeguard Spokane against the danger of oil trains
    • May 6, 2015
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

Comment


Briefs


Publisher's Note


marijuana


education


© 2015 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation