A chosen tactic of outgoing leaders in the Spokane Police Department: talk highly about the sheriff’s plan for regionalizing police forces.
Documents recently released from last December’s investigation into reports that former Assistant Police Chief Scott Stephens had threatened to go “postal” after hearing of his impending demotion contain a line from a “confidante and friend” of Stephens describing the tactic.
In her account of Stephens’ behavior the day he’s alleged to have made the threats, Officer Jennifer DeRuwe said Stephens told her he “wanted to talk to Sheriff Knezovich about becoming his undersheriff. [Stephens] said he would push the sheriff for a regional agency and be a part of that team. (This was very similar to previous Chief Kirkpatrick’s ‘threats’ when she was leaving her position a year ago.)”
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, however, said it's news to him.
“I never had those conversations,” Knezovich said Thursday. “I feel honored that they felt that way, that they wouldn’t mind working for me. But I didn’t talk to them.”
For her part, former Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said in an email Thursday that as the department continued to lose credibility with the public over various misbehavior, she told officers that “if they did not start taking control of themselves … then a good argument could be made for the Sheriff's Office to take over the police department and become a regionalized force under the Sheriff and I would advocate for it.”
Kirkpatrick, now working as the chief deputy sheriff in King County, said she assumed this potential advocacy for regionalization “is the ‘threat’ Officer DeRuwe is referencing.”
Finally, she noted that she continues to believe regionalization is a good idea to explore. “And although I think highly of Sheriff Knezovich I have never entertained joining the Spokane Sheriff's Office.”
Knezovich also still believes regionalization of police forces is a viable plan.
“We’ve talked about regionalization for 40 years” in this community, he said. “In the time I’ve been sheriff, this has been a conversation. Quite frankly, the citizens keep the conversation alive.”
But he’s the only one advocating for it, he said. “I’m interested, but I’m only one wheel in that cog. … I’m not willing to beat the drum when no one else is listening.”
He said once leaders at the police department and City Hall want to have “meaningful, real discussion, I’ll come back to the table,” he said. “This area is set for it. We share the building, properties, records. The only thing we don’t share is leadership and the uniform.”
Police Chief Frank Straub, however, said regionalization isn’t on the horizon.
“It’s not going to happen,” he said. “We look at, where are the points of intersection?” Policing gangs and drugs, for instance, or sharing a helicopter and records technology, he said.
But more importantly, Straub continued, the police department is an urban agency and the sheriff serves mostly rural areas.
“We have to recognize we have different customers we have to serve,” Straub said.