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Thu., Aug. 31, 2006

Editorials: Bad cop

Move along. Nothing to see.

That’s apparently been the motto at the Spokane Police Department for some time when it comes to police misconduct. And City Hall has been fine with it. The latest example to come to light – after 15 months of wrangling over The Spokesman-Review’s public records request – is the rehiring of a police sergeant who was dumped for an unwarranted kick to the chest of a man in January 2004.

There’s nothing in police training to justify such an act. Several officers who witnessed the event thought Sgt. Jerry Hensley went over the line. The police chief at the time, Roger Bragdon, fired him.

But Hensley appealed the termination and before an arbitrator could issue a ruling the city cut a deal. He would accept the termination but be rehired at a lower position. It says something about the city’s culture of secrecy that it could guarantee the rehiring even though the City Council would have to approve the expenditure.

The culture is to keep bad news under wrap. To dissemble when asked questions. To provide misleading information. And so it went, when the city requested that Hensley be rehired at a salary that would end up being much lower than he would actually receive. He is being paid $67,734 a year, not $43,214. The council was not given the reasons for termination. The press was stonewalled.

This can’t be what incoming Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick has in mind when she talks about leading a department with openness and integrity. Surely this violates at least one of the five cardinal rules she likes to talk about. It will be interesting to watch how she reacts to the closed-loop accountability that has eroded public confidence in the Police Department. It will be interesting to watch Mayor Dennis Hession if she doesn’t make substantive changes.

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