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Washington Voices

Police actions, system erode the public’s trust

Last week Spokane Valley Police Department demonstrated yet another reason why the local law enforcement community needs a gigantic enema.

While they are citing motorists not wearing their seat belts and gabbing on their cell phones we have gangbangers whizzing through our neighborhoods in hopped-up Hondas modified with stolen parts while they try to keep their pit bulls from sitting on their meth.

As if the local authorities didn’t get enough negative blow back for the deaths of Otto Zehm, Benites Sichiro, Trent Yohe and Jerome Alford, now they whack a preacher. Then comes the magic word we all knew we would hear: Investigation. That means we’ll never know what really happened.

All the local governments are chanting “budget cuts.” As problems with gang-related drug activity, burglary and theft continue to become more established, Spokane-area law enforcement agencies continue to play their fiddle while the embers of hard crime burn hotter. Their officers conduct affairs like uniform-wearing thugs more interested in raising revenue via traffic infractions than reducing property-damage crime, then go to sizeable effort to conceal situations where officers egregiously step over the line.

Granted, property crimes are extremely difficult to stop. It’s also understandable that the police cannot always be there. Investigation is expensive and time consuming. Police are supposed to follow the rules to catch the people that don’t. With drivers trying to break land speed records in our neighborhoods and theft running rampant, the police have their hands full. To further complicate things, most area law enforcement agencies are facing layoffs.

Things seemed to be improving when Spokane police Officer Jay Olsen resigned last year in lieu of termination for shooting Shonto Pete in 2007. More recently, Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy Darin Schaum was arrested last April by the Washington State Patrol for suspicion of driving under the influence. These incidents seem miniscule compared to the growing criticism of the conduct of local agencies and the investigation of complaints against their departments.

The problem with police self-investigation is that it is generally ineffective. The Wayne Scott Creach case will no doubt be steered toward a laughably inept review committee. After an inadequate, half-hearted investigation, law enforcement officials will duck behind disclosure guidelines and privacy policies to avoid releasing any results to the public. Has history not taught anyone that these type of investigations produce only a small number of files that ever result in any kind of discipline?

The mafia never had loyalty like what the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, which provides officers to Spokane Valley through a contract with the city, is getting. No one in the agency is talking about the Creach incident. Their lips are zipped as tight as the skin on an onion. They didn’t identify the officer involved for days. If someone from the general public was in an identical situation the assailant’s name would be as available as the weather forecast and they would be left trials of public scrutiny.

This isn’t about bashing the police. This is about their hypocrisy, their secrecy and how nothing happens to officers who break the same laws they are sworn to enforce.

Whether this is a punishable incident is yet to be determined. It may be manslaughter, it may just be an unfortunate tragedy. When you have a “good buddy” system that tramples the rights of those they patrol, whose officers are above the laws they enforce, are not held accountable because of a deficient oversight system and have their “good buddy” Steve Tucker on hand to sweep their incidents under the carpet, tragedies like this will continue.

David Teller can be reached by e-mail at

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