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Not Silent, Still Deadly 

SPD equipping service rifles with sound suppressors; plus, judge rules STA ad guidelines violated First Amendment

click to enlarge Public buses vs. free speech. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • Public buses vs. free speech.


Each of the Spokane Police Department's 181 service rifles will soon be outfitted with SUPPRESSORS, more commonly known as silencers. The Spokane City Council signed off on the $115,202 contract to purchase the equipment last month.

"The biggest misconception is they're going to be James Bond quiet," says SPD Lt. Rob Boothe, a firearms instructor with the department. "They're still pretty loud — enough to where if you're standing there, you would hear it and get that startle effect. They're just safer within the [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] standard."

Boothe says that in the past, officers have endured hearing damage from standing close to rifles as they're fired. SPD Maj. Kevin King, for example, wears hearing aids in both ears because he was standing next to rifle fire in a 2013 fatal shooting involving SPD officers. King filed a claim with the state for hearing damage after that shooting.

"There's also the possibility of hearing damage to bystanders," Boothe adds. "It's nothing more than a muffler on your car."

SPD's new suppressors will screw onto the end of each rifle barrel. By slowing the escape of gas from the end of the weapon, suppressors reduce the noise and the thud against officers' bodies.

The suppressors SPD will use are manufactured by Gemtech, a Boise-based company, and come with a lifetime warranty, Boothe says. "Some of these [suppressors] will outlast a gun. This'll be a one-time purchase unless we expand the rifle program."

According to the Spokesman-Review, rifles have been used in about half of the department's officer-involved shootings since 2009, as either primary or secondary weapons. (MITCH RYALS)

AD busters

Last year, the Spokane Transit Authority fired its bus advertising company, Ooh Media, citing "repeated errors in applying the board's policy to advertisements."

In particular, STA was upset about an advertisement for the local Amalgamated Transit Union, the group representing STA's bus drivers, that Ooh Media wanted to allow.

STA argued that ATU's proposed ad ("You have the Right to Organize! Contact ATU 1015 Today") was against its advertising policy banning matters of "public debate about economic, political, religious or social issues."

But it turned out that STA had actually failed to correctly interpret its own policy, according to U.S. District Court Judge Justin L. Quackenbush.

"For most every good or service, there is some level of debate," Quackenbush writes. If simply the presence of debate made a service prohibited, it "would swallow the rest of the Policy so no advertisement would ever be allowed on STA buses."

He found that STA violated the FIRST AMENDMENT with its decision to prohibit ATU's ad.

"We respectfully disagree with the court's opinion and we are in the process of evaluating next steps," said STA CEO E. Susan Meyer in a prepared statement given to the Spokesman-Review. Meyer also noted that the judge did not find viewpoint discrimination or anti-union sentiment in the way STA had applied the policy.

ATU was more celebratory, noting that they planned to re-submit their proposed advertisement.

"STA was attempting to trample on our First Amendment right to let workers at Uber, Lyft, charter bus and school bus companies know they have a right to a voice that will protect their interests on the job," said Thomas Leighty, president of ATU Local 1015, in a press release. (DANIEL WALTERS)

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