The three out-of-town candidates for police chief all knew about the sex scandal in which two Spokane police officers, investigating an alleged rape, ordered the deletion of explicit photos of a 16-year-old girl from a firefighter’s camera.
And all three candidates had the same answer Tuesday when asked in a public forum about the Daniel Ross case: No comment. They thought it would be inappropriate to weigh in.
For candidate Bruce Alan Roberts, it wasn’t a theoretical question. He headed the internal investigation involving Detective Neil Gallion and Sgt. Joe Peterson, and he said he came to his decision to suspend the two men, in part, by asking basic questions: What was the intent of what they did? Did they self-report? Did the victim want to pursue charges?
Roberts’ approach to the investigation was similar to how the other candidates explained how they dealt with internal investigations and discipline.
An officer in the Federal Way Police Department, where Anne Kirkpatrick is police chief, dumped a vial of PCP rather than booking it into evidence.
He resigned in lieu of being fired, Kirkpatrick said. Another officer properly secured evidence but didn’t turn it in immediately and was suspended, she said.
Roger Peterson, the Rochester, Minn., police chief, said his philosophy is simple. If the act was malicious or dishonest, then the officer will likely be fired. If it was an honest mistake, then they should look at how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
The four chief candidates were also well-acquainted with the story of Otto Zehm, the mentally disabled janitor who died after a scuffle with Spokane police,
While the internal investigations were similar for each of the candidates’ departments in cases of officer-involved deaths, the criminal investigations differed.
The Federal Way and Rochester police departments use external agencies to investigate officer-involved deaths.
“It’s done to avoid conflict of interest, and more importantly, the public’s perception of a conflict of interest,” Peterson said. “We can do a complete and thorough investigation, but if it does not appear that way to the public, it doesn’t matter.”
Spokane police often ask the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office to assist during investigations into deaths caused by officers, but the two agencies work as partners.
“There’s the issue of where we would go,” Roberts said. “There’s no one with more proficiency in investigating deaths.”
Seattle police, Linda Eschenfelder Pierce’s department, went outside its typical procedure when it asked the Kent Police Department to investigate an off-duty shooting involving a veteran police officer and a Seattle attorney this month. Pierce said the department usually investigates itself.
Questions at the second police chief forum Tuesday were more varied than at the first forum, on Monday. Spokane residents asked about core policing functions and specific investigations and attitudes, rather than repeated questions on citizen oversight and budgets. Spokane residents wanted to know how the four finalists addressed racial profiling, a methamphetamine problem and a high crime area.
In Rochester, Minn., police had to quit running license plates randomly to avoid the appearance that they were picking on minorities, Peterson said. His department wasn’t profiling, but because of the plates they chose to check, it appeared that way.
Kirkpatrick said it’s simple: “Policing has to be behavior based.”
People also asked: What do you do if you see police doing something illegal? How soon would your philosophy be reflected on the streets in Spokane?
All the candidates agreed: If police are doing something that doesn’t seem appropriate then file a complaint.
“We’ll give you a rational explanation why we did it, or we’ll change the way we do business,” Peterson said. “We’ll investigate, and we’ll give you an answer.”
The four police chief finalists were cordial and articulate when answering the questions Tuesday night, except for when one resident asked about Spokane’s good ol’ boy system. The candidates seemed defensive.
“I have absolutely no concerns,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s about leadership traits. I’m pretty well-connected in law enforcement … and that’s not what Spokane’s known for.”