Then There Were Two

The low-down on the men vying to be Spokane’s next police chief

This isn’t going to be easy. Running the Spokane Police Department is going to take some chutzpah, humility and endurance. 

Whoever ends up being police chief will have to deal with an upsurge in property crimes and a cut in staffing. There will be sparring with the City Council and the Police Guild. There will potentially be officers to fire and officers to hire.

And the new chief will have to steer the SPD through the choppy waters generated by the 2006 death of Otto Zehm and the federal investigations that have followed.

Four police chief finalists have been whittled down to two, Frank Straub from Indianapolis and Daniel Mahoney from San Francisco. And by the time you read this, the mayor, city attorney and city administrator will be heading to the finalists’ cities to look into their past.

Straub, Indianapolis’s public safety director, is a hard-charging reformer who may have charged too hard for that city’s liking.

Mahoney is commander of the San Francisco Police Department’s Ingleside station. He’s a lifelong cop in the land of cable cars and sourdough, but may not have the command-level experience to handle Spokane.

Both bring lengthy resumes to the job. But they also bring baggage, reputations and differing styles of leading.

San Francisco’s Mahoney

Daniel Mahoney’s south San Francisco precinct, which covers 6.3 miles and 123,000 people, was in the news this year, but for all the wrong reasons.

In March, Mahoney’s officers discovered five people killed in a home on a quiet street near a community college. Meanwhile, gang infighting has left six people dead since mid-May in another neighborhood.

Mahoney tells The Inlander that he stepped up patrols in gang-afflicted areas in the wake of the violence. And after the quintuple homicide, Mahoney wrangled the police chief for a public meeting with the neighbors.

“We tell them as much as we can,” he recalls of the meeting. “We tell them about [the] investigation and then we’re going to be quiet and let the people talk and we let them vent. And so they walk away at least with the satisfaction that we haven’t forgotten about them.”

Policing in San Francisco, being a liberal city, is different from many parts of the country. The city, for instance, rates using marijuana on private property as a low priority. And San Francisco is also a “sanctuary city,” meaning a city ordinance prohibits using tax money to turn over suspected illegal immigrants to federal authorities.

That policy was criticized in 2008 after a gang member mistook three family members in a car for gang rivals and gunned them down. The gunman, who had been arrested previously and was later convicted for the murders, was an illegal immigrant and would have theoretically been deported âeuro;” had it not been for the sanctuary policy.

“If someone is walking down the street, whether they’re illegal or not and if they’re a contributing member of society, I don’t believe its my authority to go in there” and hand them to the feds, Mahoney says. But he’ll do the community’s bidding if he moves to Spokane.

Mahoney’s been with the SFPD since 1982, working his way up through the ranks to serve as commander of the special investigations division, among other titles, before taking over in Ingleside in May 2011.

As captains go, he’s been one of the better ones, says Mary Harris, a community activist in the neighborhoods around Mahoney’s precinct.

“Some captains would just say, ‘I’m off,’” when asked to meet with community members on days off, Harris says. “Capt. Mahoney wasn’t like that at all.”

Indianapolis’ Straub

Frank Straub occupies a role something akin to king of emergencies in Indianapolis.

He oversees the fire department, the police, paramedics and animal control. He’s done the same job in White Plains, N.Y., and also served in the New York City Police Department.

After two years in Indianapolis, much less than the eight years he served in White Plains, Straub is leaving.

His announcement of his departure was controversial, with the City Council poised to issue a no-confidence vote against him and the police union grumbling over his leadership.

“I think in some ways, he had lost some confidence within the community because of a couple of incidents,” says Charles Harrison, president of the board of directors of the Ten Point Coalition, a faith-based group that helps crime victims. “When you come in and you try to change the police department, there’s going to be a lot of push back. I think Frank definitely shook the tree.”

Through a city attorney, Straub declined to comment for this article.

The turning point for Straub may have been revelations that the city mishandled a vial of blood belonging to a police officer accused of drunkenly crashing into a group of motorcyclists, fatally injuring one. Drunken driving charges against the officer were dismissed because of a lack of blood tests.

Straub and the city police chief both resigned shortly after the revelations.

Earlier, Straub had riled the department by demoting three high-ranking police officials over the department’s handling of the drunken accident.

“I think he moved too quickly in demoting the assistant police chief and some of the deputy chiefs,” Harrison says. “I would have liked to see them do a more thorough investigation before they were demoting those officers, who were well respected in the police department and the city.”

Despite all that, Straub won accolades from community groups.

“An expert is someone whose made every mistake in a narrow field. And Frank Straub, I’m not saying that he’s made every mistake,” says Tim Nation, director of the Peace Learning Center, an Indianapolis group that works to curb youth violence. “He is battle-worn and ready for the next fight. I’d take a good look at him.”

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About The Author

Chris Stein

Chris Stein is a staff writer at The Inlander. He covers social services, downtown Spokane, Eastern Washington and Spokane city hall. His work has been published by the Associated Press, VeloNews and the Santa Barbara Independent. He was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.