Tuesday, December 15, 2015

How much progress has the Spokane Police Department made on the DOJ recommendations?

Posted By on Tue, Dec 15, 2015 at 9:35 AM

The United States Department of Justice on Monday released a six-month progress report for the Spokane Police Department’s efforts toward collaborative reform.

In December 2014, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) tasked SPD with 42 recommendations to address use of force practices, tactical policing strategies and building community relationships. Those recommendations came after former Chief Frank Straub invited the DOJ COPS Office to do an assessment of his newly acquired department in 2012.

The report released yesterday has found that SPD has completed five of the 42 recommendations and made progress on 27 others. No progress has been made on 10 of the recommendations. 

Recommendations where no progress has been made: 

Recommendation: Spokane’s Use of Force Commission recommended a culture audit of the department, and the DOJ recommended the department work with the commission to explore what a culture audit would look like and what insights commissioners hoped it would provide. The Use of Force Commission threw the decision back to Straub, who said his more than two years of implementing reforms gave him a "very good understanding of both the formal and informal culture." 

Recommendation: Instead of waiting for the prosecutor’s decision, SPD should should start the administrative investigation immediately after the criminal investigation is completed. This is something that needs to be hammered out with the Guild/Assn.

Recommendation: SPD should expand the scope of the Administrative Review Panel, and allow panel members to vote on officer tactics, decision-making and policy violations outside the use of force policy. Previously, panel members were restricted to examining whether the officer abided by the use of force policy. The DOJ's review of cases from 2009-2013 showed that the Administrative Review Panel found all of these incidents to be within policy and issued no recommendations or discipline.

The report says SPD intends to implement this recommendation, but needs to clear it with the unions first.

Recommendation: SPD should update the policy manual to reflect the changes to responsibilities of ARP members suggested above. Again, this one again needs the unions’ blessings.

Recommendation: SPD should include the ombudsman in the Deadly Force Administrative Review Panel (D-ARP), a move that, again, will need the union's OK.

Recommendation: Organizational changes in 2014 resulted in officers appointed to conduct internal affairs investigations despite little training. SPD will be developing standard operating procedures for the IA, however the report shows no progress.

Four more recommendations required a sitting ombudsman. Since Spokane has been without an ombudsman for nearly a year, no progress has yet been.

Recommendations that have been completed: 

Recommendation: SPD should continue to publish annual use of force reports. Some are available online here.

Recommendation: SPD should examine patterns of behavior for officers with high frequency of use of force incidents. SPD refined its analysis to identify officers with high frequency of use of force and will continue to monitor and identify trends, the report says. 

Recommendation: SPD’s executive leadership should tell employees about organizational changes and why they’re happening. SPD put an “internal engagement and communication strategy” in place. Throughout the next year, the DOJ will interview officers to see how effective the new strategy is.

Recommendation: SPD should establish a community outreach strategy and plan. It’s posted online.

Recommendation: SPD should do a citizens’ academy. The academy ran from May to June 2015 and touched on the K-9 unit, Internal Affairs processes, civilian oversight, the VirTra shooting simulator, body cameras, CIT training and more. Going forward, SPD plans to host an annual academy, the report says.  

The next report from the Department of Justice will be released in the fall of 2016. 

Read this year's report in its entirety here

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Mitch Ryals

Mitch covers cops, crime and courts for the Inlander. He moved to Spokane in 2015 from his hometown of St. Louis, and is a graduate of the University of Missouri. He likes bikes, beer and baseball. And coffee. He dislikes lemon candy, close-mindedness and liars. And temperatures below 40 degrees.