Thursday, December 20, 2012

Police commission recommends cultural, procedural changes

Posted By on Thu, Dec 20, 2012 at 6:10 PM

A highly anticipated report from the city's Use of Force Commission released today recommends the Spokane Police Department make several cultural and operational changes to embrace new conflict de-escalation techniques, improve transparency and modernize practices.

Established early this year to provide independent analysis on police reform, the commission submitted a lengthy draft report Thursday afternoon, listing 26 different ways to reshape the police department. The recommendations vary widely with some seeking a more clearly defined mission while others ask for procedural changes. 

Commission Chair Earl Martin says one of the key recommendations encourages the department to move toward a culture of de-escalation where officers focus on talking their way out of confrontations instead of overcoming opposition with physical force.

"It is critically important that SPD officers are prepared not just to win the conflict," the report states, "but also to avoid such in the first place."

In addition to procedural changes, Martin says the department struggles with depleted patrol personnel as well as insufficient or outdated equipment. He says the department will need additional funding from the city to make some of the recommended improvements.

"A community cannot have a great police force on the cheap," he says. "The Spokane Police Department is a department in need of resources."

Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub says he had just a brief opportunity to "skim" the report upon its release Thursday. From his first glance, Straub says he expects many of the recommendations to line up with the 2013 Strategic Plan he is scheduled to release Friday morning.

"I think what you're going to see in the strategic plan is a lot of the same language," Straub says, adding, "From what I heard, I would agree with many of the the statements [the commission] made."

Martin says he respects the professionalism of many officers at the department, but he feels the force still lacks a clear sense of purpose. Along with rewriting the mission statement, the commission suggests the department train its officers to take a more progressive approach to defusing volatile confrontations.

"[The] SPD should ensure that it adopts a certified de-escalation training program with measurable outcomes," the recommendation states, "that both impresses upon its officer the obligation to do everything in their power to de-escalate potentially violent situations and prepares them to use de-escalation techniques, when appropriate and feasible, to reduce the need for force."

Several of the other recommendations suggest:

• Give the Police Ombudsman the authority to "open and conduct independent investigations concerning the operations, actions, or omissions of the SPD."

• Equip officers with body cameras.

• Make negotiations with the Spokane Police Guild more transparent. Do the same with the Spokane Police Lieutenants and Captains Association.

• Review patrol officer staffing levels to ensure sufficient staffing to maintain public safety.

• Expand what is considered a "use of force" incident and improve the reporting system.

The commission had expected to release a report this past summer, but encountered several delays leading up to Thursday's announcement. Martin says the extra time allowed the commission to receive more input from legal consultants.

Martin says the report is still a draft and he hopes public feedback will help improve the final document before it is submitted to the Mayor's Office. The commission will continue to accept public comment until Jan. 30. Comments can be emailed to [email protected].

Draft Report of the City of Spokane Use of Force Commission

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Jacob Jones

Staff writer Jacob Jones covers criminal justice, natural resources, military issues and organized labor for the Inlander.