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Sirens & Gavels

Report: SPD lacks certified instructors

None of the Spokane Police Department's defensive tactics instructors are certified by the state and may have relied on a flawed legal interpretation while teaching officers when it's OK to use deadly force, the city's Use of Force Commission has found.

“In fact, no officers in the department have received instructor re-certification since 2007,” the group, empaneled by Mayor David Condon, wrote in its 177-page draft report.

The commission was formed to review the police department's operations following widespread public outcry over the city's handling of the fatal 2006 confrontation with Otto Zehm, who was wrongly implicated in a potential theft and then beaten by officers until he lost consciousness and died two days later. Former SPD Officer Karl Thompson Jr. was ordered last year to serve a little over four years in prison after being convicted of excessive use of force and lying to investigators.

Spokane City Hall is hoping residents will review the report and send their thoughts and comments on its findings. A copy of the report, along with a link for where you can comment, can be found here: http://www.spokanecity.org/services/articles/?ArticleID=2927. The city is accepting public comments through Jan. 30.

The commission made 26 recommendations for improving the police department, which Condon and new Police Chief Frank Straub are reviewing and promise to embrace. The draft report was unveiled Dec. 20.

Among them is the need to ensure that officers are being properly advised in when deadly force is authorized, and that they're being trained in how to de-escalate potentially violent confrontations.

Questions over potentially flawed deadly force training emerged after the commission was given copies of the department's training manuals that advised officers they were free to use deadly force whenever they believed their life or the lives of others is in danger.

That subjective standard has no basis in state or federal law, the commission — whose members include lawyers and a retired state Supreme Court justice — concluded. The proper legal standard is objective rather than subjective, requiring evidence supporting the officer's conclusions.

“In weighing the government's interest in the use of force, courts will examine, among other relevant factors, whether the subject posed an immediate threat to officer or public safety, the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect was actively resisting arrest or attempting to escape, and whether law enforcement could have used other methods to accomplish its purpose,” the report notes. “The Commission is concerned that these legal rules are not as well understood across the SPD as they need to be.”


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