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Chief makes changes

Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick has more changes planned.
 (File / The Spokesman-Review)
Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick has more changes planned. (File / The Spokesman-Review)

In what she described as her toughest decision so far, Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick on Wednesday announced a department reorganization intended to increase efficiency, facilitate communication and encourage responsiveness to the public.

Starting today, Jim Nicks is the chief’s sole second in command, and will have the title of assistant chief. Nicks previously shared the position of deputy chief with Al Odenthal, who recently retired, and Bruce Roberts.

The deputy chief rank has been eliminated, and the rank of major has been added, said spokesman Cpl. Tom Lee. Majors will be third in command.

Roberts is now a major, Kirkpatrick said. The two other major positions will be filled by promotions from among the department’s 12 lieutenants, which should be announced within the next three weeks. Each of the three majors will oversee a division: Operations, operations support or administrative services.

Operations, the largest bureau, will include the two current patrol divisions, Lee said. Operations support will be the umbrella for all investigative units, communications, community services and special teams. Administrative services will include finance, records management, information services and training.

“The overall consolidation will result in the elimination of two administrative positions,” Lee said. “They are the civilian job of administrative director and one lieutenant’s position.”

The reorganization will take place over the next few months, Kirkpatrick said. It will be complete when the department’s administrative director, David Ingle, retires in April.

Along with the reorganization, Kirkpatrick also announced her goals for the upcoming year.

The chief plans to work with Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich to reinstitute Crime Check, the previous 24-hour non-emergency telephone number for law enforcement, she said. She wants to hire a consultant to revise the department’s Citizens’ Review Commission; create a newly structured leadership training program for all department supervisors; and reinstate the Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT.

Crime Check and CIT were among many services eliminated in recent years due to budget cuts, Lee said. CIT is a group of officers trained to interact with citizens affected by mental illness.

Otto Zehm, who died last year following a scuffle with several police officers, was mentally ill.

With more than three months under her belt, Kirkpatrick has been responsible for a long list of changes, including Wednesday’s reorganization.

“If you think I’ve done a lot, just wait,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’m just getting started.”

After just two weeks on the job, Kirkpatrick forwarded an internal affairs investigation to the city’s newly resurrected Citizens’ Review Commission. Police administration had not used the citizen group for more than a decade.

The investigation involved off-duty police Lt. Judi Carl, who used foul language when she confronted a neighbor who was holding a gun on several teens that he suspected of vandalizing property. The teens included two of the lieutenant’s children

Kirkpatrick decided to suspend Carl for one day, saying her behavior was unbecoming of a senior officer. But when a citizen complained that Carl’s involvement may have inappropriately influenced a decision to charge the neighbor, the chief forwarded the case to the newly resurrected review commission.

However, the group concluded that it didn’t have jurisdiction since a disciplinary decision had already been made.

This experience of the citizen review process prompted Kirkpatrick to vow she would overhaul it.

Less than a month into the job, Kirkpatrick headed out on the streets with patrol officers. For two months, the chief rode along with patrol officers as a way to familiarize herself with the Spokane community and learn how Spokane police officers do their work.

During those patrols, Spokane resident Marc Walker met Kirkpatrick.

“From that brief conversation, and what I have read and heard by word of mouth, I am duly impressed,” Walker said in an e-mail. “I believe she will be a fine chief and a fine example of what can be had for this city, if the decision makers make the effort.”

Kirkpatrick’s observations while doing patrol shifts led to the reallocation of officers from a weekend traffic patrol shift to swing shift rotation where she felt help was much needed.

She found that officers were going to calls alone, such as domestic violence, where their safety was jeopardized.

In November, Kirkpatrick fired an officer who let a child-porn possessing sex offender live in his basement and who failed to report the convicted felon was in possession of firearms. A tough decision, Kirkpatrick said when she announced it. But aside from Cpl. David Freitag’s violation of police department policies and rules of conduct, the chief was concerned about his decision-making process.

Based on e-mails responding to an inquiry about the chief’s performance thus far, Spokane residents seem to be impressed with her work.

“From what I’ve seen, it seems to me that her concerns are to make the Police Department more open and consider the public’s input,” said Iris St. John, 62. “It’s seems to me that the department has been a closed, ol’ boy network. I think she will help restore faith in the Police Department.”

Being an outsider – and a woman – that might be a challenge, and it is essential the City Council back her, St. John said.

Tony Bamonte, former Pend Oreille County sheriff, thinks Kirkpatrick has a number of qualities going for her: “She’s honest. She’s well-educated, and as a leader, she knows what works and what doesn’t.

“She has the potential to be the best police chief Spokane has ever had. I’m following what she’s doing. She’s setting a very good tone for the department. She’s really refreshing.”

One e-mailer called her proposal to put cameras at intersections to catch violators “extortion.” Others thought the chief’s gender would hinder her from being an effective leader.

But Mayor Dennis Hession has been pleased with his choice for police chief.

“When I was selecting a new chief, strong leadership and a good community presence were of primary importance,” Hession said. “She has done both very well.”

Her ability to gain the confidence and develop personal relationships with the public has been extraordinary, the mayor said.

“The comments I have received from police officers, unsolicited, are that things are much better, things are progressing,” Hession said. “She has an air of sophistication because of her education and experience, but she is a cop.”

Kirkpatrick said while the reorganization has been her toughest decision since coming to the department, her “easiest decisions have been coming here, and deciding to spend time meeting with everybody.”