New Spokane police Chief Frank Straub must move quickly to build support outside the office of Mayor David Condon.
The former Indianapolis public safety director has not been greeted with much enthusiasm following a relatively short selection process that attracted 13 candidates – none from Washington. The nightmare tenure of predecessor Anne Kirkpatrick, who lost a power struggle with the Police Guild, was a red flag, as is the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice investigation into police conduct during and after the death of Otto Zehm.
The controversy that led to Straub’s resignation in Indianapolis and a seeming Condon bias in his favor before other candidates got a full vetting have not been helpful, nor was a recommendation from a law enforcement group that the search be reopened after members met with the finalists for the chief’s job.
Although the City Council has not yet approved Straub’s appointment, there has been no suggestion members will not, nor should they. Condon has shown good judgment selecting an executive team. And we share his desire, repeated in a letter announcing his decision, to implement practices based on the metro policing model with which Straub is familiar from his responsibilities in Indianapolis.
What “metro” means is a matter of interpretation. The city of Spokane Valley contracting with the Sheriff’s Office for police services is one example. Unified city-county law enforcement like that in Indianapolis is another.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich put a proposal for a countywide force under his command to the mayor several months ago. Consolidation would help address the financial squeeze on all government services, improve response to property and vehicle theft, and build on relationships that have achieved success fighting gangs and crimes.
He acknowledged the many political, organizational and cultural obstacles to such a drastic change in policing. The emotional ties communities have to their own officers, and officer loyalty to their comrades and history may be the biggest hurdles.
That does not mean the idea should not get serious consideration. Now. The city has a new mayor. After the elections, the county will have at least one new commissioner, possibly two, and a third incumbent – Al French – who was elected two years ago after serving on the City Council.
The biggest plus is Knezovich himself, who is probably the most popular elected official in the county. But not all of his predecessors have enjoyed such widespread support, and his successors may not, either. Still, his plan deserves serious review.
Condon, meanwhile, is negotiating a new contract with the Police Guild. Terms that have resulted in significant wage gains in recent years while the number of officers has declined must change. Straub, who says he wants to establish a good relationship with the force, will be in a difficult position unless he has the strong, explicit support of the council and other community leaders.
Kirkpatrick was submerged by silence. If Straub does no better, the next time the chief’s position opens up, 13 will seem like a lucky number.
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