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We Can Do Better 

Spokane deserves the most ethical and highly trained police force; let's set the standard for other cities

click to enlarge CALEB WALSH ILLUSTRATION
  • Caleb Walsh illustration

here's the thing about the issues the Spokane Police Department is experiencing: The citizens of Spokane will pay the price of the moral and ethical transgressions of recent events. And the citizens who will pay the highest price will be marginalized communities.

First, at a party attended by mostly police officers, a woman, also a police officer, is allegedly sexually assaulted by a colleague. Then there was an apparent cover-up of the alleged assault by the suspect and fellow officers. We could break this down a hundred different ways, but to me, the most important part of this to unpack is that off-duty officers allegedly felt comfortable enough and powerful enough to do harm to a woman, a fellow member of the force. The audacity of that is almost incomprehensible. Think of how much misogynistic ideology these men would need to possess to treat a fellow officer that way.

click to enlarge tara-dowd.jpg

And now we watch as the mayor of Spokane, David Condon, and his administration face an investigation because Frank Straub, his handpicked former police chief, was accused of sexual misconduct and his administration allegedly covered it up. Anyone else not at all surprised that officers who had been under Straub's command have also been accused of sexual assault?

It's clear that the Condon administration, and the police department especially, think that women are second-class citizens. If I were a woman on the force, I would have serious concerns about my safety and agency over my own body. Heck, as a female citizen, I have concerns. How can the police department and Condon think that women can feel safe with police officers after recent events?

Now remember that this police department has a certain pattern in regards to marginalized communities. Remember Otto Zehm, the man with developmental disabilities who died after being beaten by Spokane police? Remember Shonto Pete, the Native American man who was shot in the back of the head while trying to run away from an off-duty police officer, who against department policy was carrying a gun in a bar? These examples tell the story of a police department that has a moral, training and communication problem related to the Native American community, the disabled community and now, women.

As citizens we must demand that our moral, ethical and training standards be stringent enough that the agents of our city do not behave in such reprehensible ways toward anyone. We must demand that Mayor Condon hold the next leader of our police force to a higher standard. But we can't stop there. We must demand that the right training and support is provided to the whole force, because this is a systemic and environmental issue. Just changing the leadership will not produce the kind of long-term change that we need.

Now, I know that there are going to be people who are upset that I'm judging the whole force by the acts of a few. And I would agree; usually that is what I call stereotyping, and is not helpful in dealing with people who are different. But in this instance, as a taxpayer and a concerned citizen, it is my duty to ensure that those without a voice can be heard. And I believe that the good cops on the force are just waiting for the right leadership to come along so that they can be a part of the change that leads to a strong, highly trained and morally and ethically strong police force.♦

Tara Dowd, an enrolled Inupiaq Eskimo, was born into poverty and now owns a diversity consulting business. She is an advocate for systemic equity and sees justice as a force that makes communities better.

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