April 29, 2010 in Opinion

Editorial: Police Guild voting stunt hurt its own rank and file

 

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

Just because the Spokane Police Guild races to the defense of officers who break the law, abuse their authority or demonstrate other inappropriate conduct, that’s no reason to conclude the guild condones such behavior. After all, it’s a union’s job to protect a member’s contractual rights.

Just as it’s a police chief’s responsibility to uphold appropriate standards of professional conduct and impose consequences for violations.

But the Spokane Police Guild went way beyond its proper role when it deliberately misrepresented the outcome of a no-confidence vote against Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and Assistant Chief Jim Nicks. Still worse, guild leadership threatened retaliation against any member who dared expose the deception.

The guild’s leadership was quick to announce early in April that a no-confidence vote had been taken and that most members had expressed their dissatisfaction with Kirkpatrick. They refused to provide specific numbers but described the outcome more than once as a majority.

Actually, 40 percent of the guild’s 276 members voted no confidence.

You’d think 40 percent would be ammunition enough for the guild to insist publicly that the administration’s internal support is shaky. And you’d think that the guild’s officers would be smart enough to realize that someone with access to the truth would eventually reveal it.

Someone did. The Spokesman-Review received a printout of the vote information, showing that only 112 guild members supported the no-confidence vote. That was more than half of the 191 who voted, but not the majority of the full membership that union leaders claimed.

The highly publicized incidents that have put several Spokane police officers in a negative light over the past couple of years are not typical of the department’s rank and file. We suspect that most members of the force disapprove of officer misconduct, even if many of them think Kirkpatrick’s response has been too harsh.

On the latter point, we strongly disagree. For the sake of the community as well as the police force, a bond of public trust is essential for effective law enforcement. It’s an important part of Kirkpatrick’s job to encourage that trust by making it plain that deviations from professional conduct will not be tolerated. She’s assumed that duty admirably, even at the risk of pushback from the union.

On the other hand, the Spokane Police Guild’s falsehood over the vote of no confidence reveals seriously misplaced priorities. It leaves the public wondering if the union is willing to overlook misconduct after all.

The strict personnel actions that have earned Kirkpatrick the guild’s animosity serve to solidify the public’s faith that law enforcement officers in Spokane are held to a high standard. That’s in the best interests of the officers on the street. It’s not their chief who’s let them down – it’s their union.

To respond online, click on Opinion under the Topics menu at www.spokesman.com.


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