Monday, March 14, 2016

Are SPD command staff free to publicly disagree with police department decisions?

Posted By and on Mon, Mar 14, 2016 at 5:33 PM

Are SPD command staff free to publicly disagree with police department decisions?
Spokane Police Captain Brad Arleth

When a senior officer of the Spokane Police Department thinks a decision is a mistake, is he allowed to express his opinion publicly?

That question was raised during the internal investigation into Spokane police Capt. Brad Arleth's decision to move furniture from the previous downtown police precinct — in the Peyton Building near the STA plaza — to the new location at the Intermodal Center. 

Ultimately, Arleth was given a written reprimand for insubordination and was on paid administrative leave for a month pending the investigation's completion (his monthly salary last year was about $11,000). Arleth is appealing the decision with a grievance letter from the Lieutenants and Captain Association. 

During interviews for the internal investigation, Asst. Chief Craig Meidl said that he did not think it was appropriate for Arleth to share concerns with the Business Improvement District board that crime would increase as a result of the move. During Arleth's interview, Arleth said that, after sharing his objections to moving the police precinct to the Peyton Building, he was called into then-Interim Chief Rick Dobrow's office, and told that his comments were "not helpful."

Arleth, upset that he was being chastised for going against the "company line," said that he was not going to be a "cheerleader for somebody's bullshit." 

Transcripts from internal affairs interviews not only highlight internal arguments about the move to the Intermodal Center, they also show widespread confusion about the decision and what furniture could or could not be moved, among the leadership in the police department. 

The plans for the downtown precinct continued to change dramatically over the summer, Arleth said in his interview. He said that, during this summer, there was actually a plan to move the South Precinct, manned by Capt. Dave Richards, not the downtown precinct, into the Intermodal Center.

But that plan was also put on hold, according to Arleth. Arleth said he wasn’t told about the final plan to move until October, after Straub had been ousted.

Arleth said he objected to being “bounced all over the calendar as far as when we were able to move.” He says that CompStat and Senior Command Staff notes would show how many different times they were told different things about the downtown precinct and the Intermodal Center.

Arleth said his "professional opinion is that we shouldn't move." But he told Dobrow that ultimately he could work anywhere. His complaint had more to do with the lack of communication.

Toward the end of their IA interview, Major Justin Lundgren bore in on whether Arleth had ever spoken out “publicly about or oppose the move in a disparaging way.”

Arleth said he sent then-Asst. Chief Rick Dobrow an email in September, warning about problems with the Intermodal Center. There wasn't bike storage. There was only one restroom containing the facility's sole sink. There was no spot for lockers or a place to change. Many of these complaints remained problems in December, when a complaint was filed over the condition of the Intermodal Center with the Police Guild.

And he also mentioned during a Business Improvement District meeting that he disagreed with Business and Developer Services Division Director Scott Simmons' positive assessment of the move. He mentioned he had over 23 years, throughout every rank, working on policing downtown. He said he saw the sort of impact that the downtown precinct, near the STA building had on crime.     

Within about a week after his comments, Arleth says, Dobrow pulled him into his office. Arleth assumed Simmons had told City Administrator Theresa Sanders about their conversation. 

"[Dobrow] closed the door and told me that my comments about downtown were not helpful and I asked him what comments?"

Arleth says Dobrow explained he was referring to Arleth's "personal comments" before the BID board. Arleth, however, considered them his "professional opinion." They had discussions about the "company line," according to Arleth. 
Asst. Chief Craig Meidl's interview also underscored the departmental confusion about when and where and how the downtown precinct was being moved. But asked if it was appropriate for Arleth to speak publicly raise concerns that crime would increase as a result of the move, Meidl says it wasn't.

“No. It’s quite the quandary because on one hand, I think we need to be completely honest with folks, but on the [other] hand you also need to, you know, show support for the goals and objectives of the police department.

Meidl also said it would be "disingenuous to say crime would go up" if the officers were moved to the Intermodal Center. 

click to enlarge Are SPD command staff free to publicly disagree with police department decisions?
Stephen Schlange
DSP President Mark Richard

But Downtown Spokane Partnership President Mark Richard says it's crucial for command staff members like Arleth to be able to speak their minds.

"We rely really heavily on the experience and the relationship we have with [Capt. Arleth] and his entire team.The captain has more than 20 years of experience in downtown policing. We rely on our relationship with him and his professional opinion," Richard says. "It would be extremely problematic to us — and on behalf of the businesses who pay for us to function — if we weren’t able to have these honest or frank discussions."

Richard says he hopes it isn't the current position of the police department administration that Arleth should refrain from publicly sharing his opinion with the Downtown Spokane Partnership if it runs contrary to decisions made by the police department. 

"We’re dealing with really complex, sensitive politically-charged issues a daily basis," Richard says. "I hope that he’s got an environment where he can speak freely and he can share his professional opinion and we can rely on that daily." 

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About The Authors

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.

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters is the Inlander's senior investigative reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...