Tired of hearing negative things about the man he selected to be police chief, Mayor David Condon and his top administrator personally paid to fly four Indiana residents to Spokane to vouch for him.
The four, including the former editor of the Indianapolis Star and the leader of the Indianapolis fire union, told the Spokane City Council on Monday night that Condon’s pick, Frank Straub, is a hard-working, caring reformer who listens to the community. Straub last month left his job as Indianapolis’ public safety director after a controversial two-year tenure.
After the four Hoosiers and 10 others testified, the council appointed Straub as Spokane’s new director of law enforcement in a 6-0 vote. (Councilman Steve Salvatori was absent.)
The title of director of law enforcement was created because Straub is not technically qualified to be chief since he is not a commissioned police officer in Washington.
City leaders are confident that Straub, as the former leader of police departments in Indianapolis and White Plains, N.Y., will have no problem becoming commissioned.
Straub won praise for bringing reform to Indianapolis’ troubled police department, but he had poor relations with that city’s police union, which has criticized his tenure. Earlier this year, Straub resigned after a threatened vote of no-confidence by the Indianapolis City-County Council.
Condon and City Administrator Theresa Sanders said they split the cost to bring the four to Spokane. The Holiday Inn Express downtown donated accommodations.
“All we have heard was negativity,” Sanders said. “I thought folks should have an opportunity to hear the other side.”
Dennis Ryerson, who retired June 1 as the editor of the Indianapolis Star, told the council that Indianapolis’ police union often fights with the person in charge.
“Frank is a very sober, serious guy,” Ryerson said. “He got to work. He made a difference. He was courteous, always professional.”
Straub takes over a department troubled by recent scandals, most notably the death of Otto Zehm, a mentally ill Spokane man who died after he was beaten, shocked and hog-tied by police in 2006. In November, after Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. was convicted of lying to investigators and violating Zehm’s civil rights, the U.S. Department of Justice accused the department of an extensive cover-up.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a department that needs reform,” Straub said after Monday’s vote. “It’s a department that needs to come together to believe in itself and tweak at things that need to be tweaked so that we provide really high caliber police and community service.”
Breean Beggs, one of the Zehm family’s attorneys, pointed to the salute given to Thompson by dozens of officers in a federal courtroom after Thompson was convicted as evidence that a cultural change is needed within the department.
“There needs to be a change. It’s going to take a very strong person to do it,” said Beggs, the former director of the Center for Justice, which also endorsed Straub’s appointment. “Dr. Straub has already proven that he is tough enough and strong enough.”
Indianapolis Police Officer Candi Perry said Straub’s tenure in Indianapolis answered the prayers of community members tired of the department that seemed detached from the community.
“You have a man who will actually listen, who will actually hear what you have to say,” Perry said. “I would like to say that Frank Straub is one of the best people who have set foot in Indianapolis.”
Wayne D. Smith, the president of Indianapolis’s firefighter union, said Straub helped made a great department even better in partnership with the fire union.
“He is a friend of labor,” Smith said.
Former Indianapolis Police Officer Spencer Moore praised the support his family received from Straub after his son, an Indianapolis police officer, died three days after he was shot in the line of duty.
Straub is scheduled to appear before the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission on Wednesday morning to seek a waiver of the requirement he attend the standard police training course at the academy. He’ll ask the commission to approve, instead, a certification process that he can complete online over nine weeks.
Sue Rahr, the commission's executive director, said such waiver requests are fairly common, particularly for cases in which a city has hired a police chief from out of state.
The 14-member commission looks at the applicant's previous training and experience, but doesn't try to determine whether the applicant will be a good police chief, Rahr said. Instead, it looks at whether the candidate is likely to successfully complete the shortened course.
The commission grants more than half of such requests, she added, because cities usually look closely at an applicant’s qualifications before hiring.
Former Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi, the city’s former police legal adviser who was fired by City Attorney Nancy Isserlis earlier this year, told the council that it should not hire Straub as the director of law enforcement because the position doesn’t exist. The council needs to create the position before it fills it, he said.
He noted that City Council documents incorrectly state that Condon recruited for the position of law enforcement director. Starting late last year, the city had been seeking applications for police chief.
Council President Ben Stuckart read a long list of Straub’s accomplishments, but alluded to the possibility that the city is taking a risk by choosing him.
“I’d rather go out on strikes at this point and try to hit the home run versus sitting and trying to get, in the bottom of the ninth, a walk,” Stuckart said. “We need somebody to lead this police department and this is the guy to do it.”