Tuesday, November 28, 2017

THE FUZZ: Chief Meidl on police reform, Oregon's rape kit problem, and what if police don't believe assault victims?

Posted By on Tue, Nov 28, 2017 at 10:15 AM


Welcome to The Fuzz, featuring a rundown of law enforcement-related news from Eastern Washington, North Idaho and elsewhere throughout the Pacific Northwest.

This week: SPD makes a splash in the national police reform conversation, King County sheriff is accused of sexual assault, Spokane missed out on federal grant money to hire more cops, Oregon struggles to meet rape kit testing deadlines, and what happens when police don't believe rape victims?

1. Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl starred in a New York Times article

Chief Meidl spoke highly of the U.S. Department of Justice's collaborative reform program deigned to help rebuild community trust in local police departments.

"As a C.E.O. of a law enforcement organization, you'll appreciate having an outsider come in and give you advice," he told the Times.

SPD has seen a 62 percent drop in complaints and a 29 percent drop in nondeadly use of force incidents since the department entered into the program in 2014, the Times reported.

SPD entered into the program under former Chief Frank Straub's command, and was given 42 recommendations, including changes to policy and better tracking of uses of force. The DOJ promised the department and the citizens of Spokane a final report card on SPD's progress. After the administration change, under U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the DOJ announced the final report isn't coming, despite pleas from Meidl and Mayor David Condon.

Earlier this year Sessions redirected the collaborative reform model, saying it "led to the unintended consequences of a more adversarial relationship between DOJ and the participating law enforcement agencies," according to a background document given to reporters in September. Meidl has said that the program was truly a collaboration.

2. King County Sheriff John Urquhart could be charged with sexual assault

The Renton Police Department is recommending sexual assault charges stemming from accusations that Urquhart groped a former male deputy in 2014.

The Seattle Times reported that the deputy, Brain Barnes, took a $160,000 cash settlement in 2015 to keep quiet about the alleged assault and other wrongdoing.

This is the second person to accuse Urquhart of sexual assault. Prosecutors declined to file charges against the sheriff last year when a female deputy accused him of rape. The Snohomish County prosecutor will now decide whether to file charges in connection to the 2014 accusations.

Urquhart, who lost his bid for re-election this year, has vigorously denied the allegations and is suing Barnes for defamation, the Seattle PI first reported.

3. Spokane misses hundreds of thousands of dollars

Spokane will not receive the $360,000 in federal grants it was hoping for to hire more police officers, the Spokesman-Review reported.

Departments in Moses Lake, Federal Way and Pasco received a total of about $1.4 million to hire 11 officers among them, according to a DOJ news release.

City officials have budgeted enough money to hire more officers in case the federal grant didn't come through, though the city's budget has not yet been finalized.

4. How should the police treat victims of sexual assault?
Every week it seems we hear new examples of how sexual harassment and assault have infected American society — "new" because the victims haven't spoken publicly before, not because the assaults are recent.

We're reminded this week of Marie, a Lynwood, Wa. woman, whose story of being raped by a man who broke into her apartment was initially repudiated by detectives. She was charged with lying to police before the man who raped her was finally arrested.

That story was originally reported by journalists Ken Armstrong and T. Christian Miller and won a Pulitzer Prize in 2016. Last week, Armstrong and Miller wrote an op-ed about the risk victims take when reporting assault to law enforcement.

Police in Lynwood have changed how they investigate accusations from victims of sexual assault since Marie's story published. Other departments are grappling with the same issue. A department in Ashland, Ore., Armstrong and Miller write in the op-ed,  has started a program to allow victims to report rape, but request no police investigation, as one example of a new approach.

"It's clear that some law enforcement agencies have begun to experiment with ways to be more responsive to rape victims," Armstrong and Miller write in the op-ed. "It is equally clear that there are no simple solutions. The path forward will almost certainly be contentious. But if we are going to make it easier for victims to tell their stories to law enforcement, change is essential."

5. Oregon struggles to clear rape kit backlogs

Despite the $1.5 million pumped into the state to hire more DNA evidence technicians, more than 1,000 tests from this year alone are still untested. About 800 are related to sex crimes, the Oregonian reported.
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