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Condon chooses Straub to lead police department

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 22, 2012, 11:51 a.m.

Frank Straub is expected to be named Spokane's next police chief in a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 22, 2012. (Robert Scheer/The Indianapolis Star)

Spokane Mayor David Condon said after searching the country for stellar candidates for the position of the city’s police chief, he had one thing to say.

“Mission accomplished,” Condon said in an afternoon news conference announcing the selection of Indianapolis’s Director of Public Safety Frank Straub as Spokane’s next police chief.

Condon said Straub also was the community’s choice with selection committee members and community members submitting comments calling him “outstanding” or saying he’s “as intelligent as they come.”

Condon said the next step in the process will be forwarding Straub’s name to the City Council for confirmation, a process he hopes will occur by next month.

In accepting the job, Straub said he and his fiancee, Amber, hope to find a home within the city and become involved in the community. He said he is impressed with the pride in the department and wants to work to complete Condon’s action plan — ensuring an open, accountable and transparent department.

“Certainly there have been challenges,” Straub said. “Every department in the country has challenges.” What matters, Straub said, is how a department responds to those challenges and whether it uses them to learn and improve.

Straub was hired in Indianapolis in January 2010 after serving as public safety commissioner in White Plains, N.Y., starting in 2002. He previously served as deputy commissioner of training for the New York Police Department and was a special agent with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Condon and Straub plan to seek a waiver from the state Criminal Justice Training Commission so Straub can be hired as police chief, as opposed to a position such as director of public safety, a title he held in Indianapolis and in White Plains, N.Y. while a police chief worked under him.

If granted, Straub likely will have to complete just a two-week course before he can become police chief. Straub said that is a typical process due to the laws and procedures that vary from state to state.

The other finalist for chief, Daniel Mahoney, said today that Condon called him Tuesday afternoon to inform him that he had picked Straub.

“He (Condon) said it was a very difficult decision, and he just said he believed that Frank was the one who could best move the community forward,” said Mahoney, the commanding officer of the Ingleside Police Station within the San Francisco Police Department.

Straub announced his resignation from his position in Indianapolis in April ahead of an expected vote of no confidence from the Indianapolis City County Council. His last day on the job was earlier this month.

Indianapolis City-County Councilor Duke Oliver said that the potential of a no-confidence vote was more about politics than Straub. He said Spokane has made a wise choice.

“If they want a babysitter, they got the wrong guy,” Oliver said. “If you put him in charge, he’s going to lead.”

Many within the Spokane Police Department long suspected that Straub would be Condon’s choice. Condon called Straub earlier this year to ask him to apply for the police position as he explored that city’s metro policing model as a potential option for Spokane.

The Indianapolis Star has described a strained working atmosphere in the Indianapolis department similar to how some have described former Spokane police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick’s tenure in Spokane: promises of reform accompanied by high-profile disciplinary actions, which often were overturned in court, resulting in back pay and legal settlements with the officers involved, and a worsening of the already tumultuous relationship between Kirkpatrick and the Spokane Police Guild. By the time Kirkpatrick left at the end of last year, she and guild leadership were not on speaking terms.

Straub’s resignation also came after the Indianapolis police chief, who works under Straub, resigned after a crucial piece of evidence in a trial - the blood of an on-duty officer accused of being drunk when he caused a crash - was misplaced. Straub admitted that he’s not easy to work for, according to The Indianapolis Star. He was under scrutiny from the Indianapolis police union and was targeted with a call for resignation by a group of former Indianapolis police chiefs and a former sheriff. That call came after Straub said the department “had been scandal-plagued for decades,” the newspaper reported.

Oliver said he didn’t worry about the criticism Straub received from Indianapolis’s police union.

“That’s not a discredit to me,” Oliver said. “For me, it’s a credit to him because we needed some reform. The reform that he wanted to institute met with some resistance.”

City Council President Ben Stuckart said last week that he agreed with Condon that both finalists were strong enough to be chief. No council member pushed Condon to reopen the search to find a new pool of candidates, as did a panel of law enforcement professionals that included Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.

“The mayor can make a selection from the two he has,” said Councilman Mike Allen.

Only one council member, Mike Fagan, has said he had a favorite among the two finalists. He said he leaned toward Mahoney because he has concerns about Straub’s commitment to protecting the Second Amendment based on statements Straub made in Indianapolis.

“We’re from the Inland Empire,” Fagan said. “We love our guns.”

In 2010, gun-rights advocates lobbied Indianapolis leaders against appointing Straub after he told the Indianapolis Star that “we have way too many guns on the street and way too many people that own guns.”

He also supported an attempt to extend a federal ban on semi-automatic rifles, according to the Star.

After his position became controversial, Straub clarified his stance, telling the newspaper: “If people follow the rules and regulations and get guns through those, they can own as many guns as they would like to own and have. I have no problem with that.”

He was appointed to the position on a 28-1 vote of Indianapolis’ City-County Council.

Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin said she isn’t concerned about Straub’s position on gun control, since he would be charged with following laws, not making them.

She said she is unexcited about the choices, though she will support Condon’s pick.

“In a market like Spokane, we should have gotten a whole heck of a lot of applications,” McLaughlin said. “I was hoping that one would stand out over the others.”

Only 13 people applied to be chief.

Straub’s hiring follows five years under Kirkpatrick, who led the police department through the controversy that culminated with the conviction last November of former Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. for using excessive force and lying to investigators about the deadly confrontation in 2006 with Otto Zehm.

Kirkpatrick was both praised in the community for tough stances on discipline, but also panned after some of those decisions resulted in large civil judgments against the city.

Police Ombudsman Tim Burns said in an interview last week that the beating of the mentally ill and disabled Zehm – and subsequent investigation that one federal official called an “extensive cover-up” – started Spokane on the road to police reform.

“The Otto Zehm case for Spokane was the Rodney King situation for the nation,” Burns said, referring to the acquittal of officers for beating of King in Los Angeles that eventually spurred a series of riots in 1992. Zehm “clearly was the defining moment … for civilian oversight.”

Reached today, Burns said he didn’t know about Straub’s choice until he was informed by a reporter.

“I think he brings some very broad experience on a much higher level than a chief of police,” Burns said. “I think there are some opportunities for the community and police department to benefit from his past experience, and I’m excited for Spokane.”

Breean Beggs, who represented Zehm’s family and estate, said he’s hopeful that Straub can “steer the department and entire city through substantial change in culture and strategy.

“The fact that (Straub) met resistance in his previous job shows that he knows what it takes to move Spokane forward,” Beggs said. “It also shows that it’s not going to work if he’s the only one leading. It’s going to take the entire city government and community to create a new vision of community policing and move forward even if there is resistance inside or outside the department.”

Beggs said it was fitting that a federal judge today finally closed all matters related to the $1.67 million civil judgment that city leaders had agreed through mediation to settle the civil lawsuit stemming from the Zehm confrontation.

“It’s appropriate that we are closing one chapter and opening a new one,” He said.

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