August 30, 2006 in City

Police review is fourth since ‘82

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The pending review of the Spokane Police Department following its controversial handling of two high-profile cases is not the first time outsiders have been brought in to examine the agency’s operations.

It will be the fourth top-down examination since 1982, when outrage over the department’s handling of sex crimes and other issues prompted the hiring of a Washington, D.C., consultant who concluded the agency was top heavy and lacked controls over personnel. A decade later, the department completed a review of its policies and procedures as part of an accreditation program that has since lapsed.

In 2002, another internal review of departmental operations was completed.

And now a fourth review is about to be conducted, this one by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, which will examine everything from the department’s Web site and public disclosure practices to its complaint process and internal discipline.

It was ordered by Mayor Dennis Hession to help restore public faith in the department, which has been heavily criticized for its handling of two cases: The investigation of a Spokane firefighter’s sexual encounter with a 16-year-old girl that resulted in no criminal charges being filed and photographs of the encounter being destroyed; and the fatal struggle between seven officers and a mentally ill janitor wrongly accused of theft.

Similar community outrage fueled the 1982 examination as well.

Public frustration over the department’s handling of sex crimes, combined with City Council concerns, led to the 1982 review. It also came within a year of South Hill rapist Kevin Coe’s arrest, an investigation in which Spokane police were heavily criticized. And to the mayor’s chagrin, the chief was asking for money to hire additional officers.

McManis Associates Inc. conducted the review and made 32 recommendations, most of which were implemented.

The consultant’s general findings in 1982 were that the city police was overstaffed, too top-heavy and had inadequate control over personnel.

Among the recommendations in the report: there should be one officer in each patrol car rather than two in order to increase response times and increase cars on the streets; patrol shifts should be staggered to create a more even flow of officers on the roads; internal affairs should investigate citizen complaints; security of the evidence room should be improved; the top administrative staff should be reduced from four to three, and police response times should be improved.

“The report was taken quite seriously,” said Terry Novak, who was Spokane’s city manager at the time.

According to media reports, about half the changes were made within weeks of the study’s release.

The study also pointed out positives at the Spokane Police Department. The analysis said that of the 25 to 35 departments they’d reviewed in the nation, Spokane was one of the “most impressive.” The study specifically mentioned excellent training of new officers, and the department’s crime prevention and community relations programs.

In 1992, the state accreditation was prompted by Spokane Police Chief Terry Mangan, said David Ingle, director of the administrative bureau at the SPD. It took three people working full time for two years to meet the 450 standards. The guidelines were set by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, or WASPC, based on the national accreditation program and adapted to the state’s laws.

“The positive side is it allows for some introspection and comparison,” Ingle said. “In some cases compliance required writing or modifying a policy. Most of the time our policies were in compliance.”

According to WASPC’s Web site, accreditation is a way of helping institutions evaluate and improve their overall performance.

The SPD let the state certification drop in 1999, “not because we couldn’t live up to the standards; it was a money and time issue,” Ingle said.

The third top-to-bottom review in 2002 resulted in a majority of the department’s policies being rewritten.

Policies and procedures are always changing, Ingle said. Spokane police spokesman Cpl. Tom Lee added that the most recent review “was good for old timers because we had to brush up on our policies.”

Annual training required of police officers mandates that they review new policies, but not the old ones learned while at the police academy.

“Reviews are good for introspection,” Ingle said. “It’s healthy.”

Mayor Dennis Hession signed a contract with WASPC earlier this month for the fourth review.

The review of the Police Department by WASPC will be similar to the one done by McManis Associates Inc. in 1982. The results of the external reviews are typically more public than the accreditation process or an internal analysis.

Through WASPC’s Loaned Executive Management Assistance Program, or LEMAP, an executive committee will look at the way the department handles pretty much everything. The contract between the city and WASPC outlines 18 key areas – some with as many as 21 categories – for the association’s analysis of the department.

When the evaluation is complete the association will submit recommendations. Officials said it’s common for WASPC to suggest 85 recommendations or more.

The report will include a narrative of what was found, and what to do if the department needs to fix something.

While WASPC is highly regarded, the association has had mixed reviews of its work.

A citizens advisory panel that oversaw the 2003 investigation of the Tacoma Police Department when Chief David Brame killed his wife and then himself was disenchanted by WASPC’s role.

“We think they are going to be like a big brother, but they are not like that,” said Sondra Purcell, who represented the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce on the advisory panel. “They are only going to tell you what was done,” she said. “Not what to do.”

Don Pierce, WASPC’s executive director, called the review in Tacoma an anomaly because it focused on Brame, and not the entire Police Department’s operations.

However, the association’s top-to-bottom review of Spokane Police Department will be similar to Tacoma’s in that the assessment will result in recommendations rather than mandatory changes. It will be up to the police chief whether the recommended changes get made.

In October 2005, the Lacey Police Department went through the same type of review that Spokane will undergo, which was prompted by the arrival of a new police chief.

One of the first things the chief did when he arrived in April 2005 was to put in a request to WASPC with anticipation that “if it doesn’t kill us, it’ll make us better,” said Lacey Police Commander John Suessman, who is second in charge of the department.

WASPC sent five or six executives who were there for three or four days, he said. The association reviewed nearly every aspect of the department, except the patrol division, and produced 129 recommendations.

“Some of the recommendations we are going to implement and some of them are just not feasible,” he said. One of the recommendations was to move a break room so other city staff didn’t have access to the Police Department. “That’s not going to happen because the city is not going to tear down walls to do that,” Suessman said.

WASPC also found that the Lacey Police Department hadn’t documented any of its use-of-force training for two years, Suessman said. But rather than go back and document it, the department just redid all levels of its training, for a fresh start.

“Some things were easy,” said Suessman, a 26-year veteran of the department. “Others were writing a policy that didn’t exist.”

But the police accountability expert said: “The best model for maintaining quality” in a police department is Boise Police Department’s community ombudsman program.

An agency should “have someone who is permanently and constantly reviewing the department,” Walker said of the ombudsman, who in Boise is a full-time city employee with two assistants working out of City Hall and a budget of nearly $300,000. “And that person should be in touch with what’s going on (with police agencies) nationally.”

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