Police ombudsman slams change in new Spokane Police Department use-of-force policy as 'egregious step backward'

Bart Logue, the Spokane Police Department's official watchdog, criticized a change in the law enforcement agency's new use-of-force policy, arguing that it would undermine oversight by removing Internal Affairs investigations from many incidents of potential excessive force.

Under the previous policy, police supervisors were required to "initiate" an Internal Affairs complaint whenever any allegation, complaint, or concern about a possible use-of-force violation arose — a move that would trigger an internal investigation.

click to enlarge Police ombudsman slams change in new Spokane Police Department use-of-force policy as 'egregious step backward'
Young Kwak photo
Ombudsman Bart Logue
However, in the new policy, which went into effect in early October, supervisors are merely required to complete a use-of-force report that would be forwarded up the chain of command and to Internal Affairs, as opposed to filing a complaint that would start a formal inquiry. The change also requires that supervisors report any "egregious" conduct to their superior.

In an Oct. 15 letter directed to Police Chief Craig Meidl, Logue slams the new policy as "alarming" and an "affront to community accountability." He argues that Internal Affairs investigations are more impartial than chain-of-command reviews of use-of-force. He also calls on the department to reinstitute the previous requirement that potential violations be automatically reported to Internal Affairs.

"Use of force is one of the highest privileges a community gives to its police department. Removing the requirement that a supervisor initiate an Internal Affairs complaint when they
think a violation may have occurred is ill advised," Logue writes. "Allegations of violations should always be thoroughly documented and investigated without undue command influence."

"Impartiality is especially important in use of force cases, in which bias and command influence can quickly try to sway outcomes," he adds. "Internal Affairs investigators are generally removed from outside influence in administrative investigations. This is not the case in supervisory reviews of direct report officers, who have the additional scrutiny of their direct report supervisor.

"Any perceived violations of SPD’s Use of Force Policy deserves impartial scrutiny during the investigative process, PRIOR to a chain-of-command review."

At an Oct. 15 meeting of the Office of the Police Ombudsman Commission — a five member civilian panel that oversees the work of Logue's office — Logue criticized the changes as an "egregious step backward." His recommendation letter criticizing the policy change, which was sent to Meidl on Wednesday, was also endorsed by the commission.

Reached by telephone, Meidl says that he's "disappointed" that Logue didn't contact him about his concerns when they sent his office the final draft in early September. He argues that the new policy still has "umbrella" language requiring that all department employees "report any policy violation" to their supervisor. The idea, he says, is that supervisors and command staff will file complaints with Internal Affairs when serious violations of use-of-force policy are identified during the chain-of-command use-of-force review.

"He goes public with it and makes a big fire storm out of something that could have been solved anytime in the last five weeks," Meidl says of Logue's comments at the ombudsman commission meeting. "That’s disingenuous."

Logue tells the Inlander that he wasn't notified of the change by Police Department staff and only saw it when a staffer in his office came across it. A previous version of the policy that had been circulated in March didn't feature the change, he says.

"They had every opportunity to tell us about any sort of change to that," he says. "We were never briefed. We never discussed it."

Jenny Rose, chair of the Office of Police Ombudsman Commission, tells the Inlander that Police Department command staff never mentioned the change during their community presentations about the new policy over the summer. (The department had been working on the new policy for over a year.)

"Why didn’t we hear about this?" Rose says. "I was caught off guard."

Meidl says that the changes are intended to keep policy violations that don't, in his view, warrant a formal inquiry — like pointing a firearm at someone — from getting wrapped up in the Internal Affairs investigation process.

"All violations of a use-of-force policy are not necessarily excessive force," Meidl says. "The way it is now, every policy violation is going to be an Internal Affairs complaint rather than a training issue."

click to enlarge Police ombudsman slams change in new Spokane Police Department use-of-force policy as 'egregious step backward'
Young Kwak
Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl
However, he clarifies that he is "absolutely" committed to addressing the concerns raised by Logue.

Rose says that the department should revert to the previous language: "This new policy is too subjective."

Back in May, Logue criticized the Police Department for failing to open an Internal Affairs investigation into a controversial arrest that occurred back in February where a police officer lifted a police dog into the window of a car with an allegedly submissive suspect. An internal investigation into the episode wasn't opened until Logue was notified of the incident by a citizen, prompting a complaint.

"I don’t think our office exists to make people comfortable but to point out what we believe isn’t correct," Logue says. "I fully disagree with a reduction of scrutiny on use-of-force events."

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About The Author

Josh Kelety

As a staff writer, Josh covers criminal justice issues and Spokane County government. Previously, he worked as a reporter for Seattle Weekly. Josh grew up in Port Townsend and graduated from the University of Washington. Message him through Signal @ (360) 301-3490.