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Organizational shakeup coming for Spokane police

UPDATED: Fri., Dec. 21, 2012, 12:48 p.m.

The Spokane Police Department, hoping to restore public confidence and rebuild its tarnished image, will embark on a major reorganization next month that’s intended to give the agency greater crime-fighting coordination and transparency.

The reorganization is contained within the department’s new strategic plan unveiled this morning by Police Chief Frank Straub, and comes just a day after an independent panel examining the use of force by Spokane police officers recommended major changes in the department’s training and internal investigations.

Many of that panel’s recommendations appear to have already been included in Straub’s plan.

Notably, the new chief wants to add an additional sergeant to help beef up the department’s Internal Affairs unit, revamp training and equip officers with body cameras. The department is establishing clear overall goals for reducing crime and rebuilding community trust.

“I think it’s critically important we focus on crime reduction,” Straub said. “If we’re going to restore confidence in our police department, we have to reduce crime.”

The entire organizational structure is being reworked.

Major Craig Meidl is being promoted to assistant chief. Former interim Police Chief Scott Stephens will return to captain and oversee the department’s efforts to earn state accreditation, which will require intensive review and updating of departmental policy.

Organizationally, the department will move away from a structure built around separate operating divisions for each traditional law enforcement function, such as patrol or investigations. Instead, it will have just three primary divisions in an effort to improve coordination.

“In the past, the Spokane Police Department has relied on a traditional, vertical organizational structure, with separate bureaus designed around specific functions,” the new plan explains. “In reality, however, most police work takes place laterally, moving across different units that are serving a common purpose. By reorganizing the department into a flatter, more horizontal and connected organization, we can match units to their function.”

Patrol and investigations, for example, will be a part of a new Field Operations Bureau overseen by Capt. Brad Arleth. The Strategic and Tactical Operations Bureau, lead by Capt. Frank Scalise, will be in charge of all targeted crime units such as drug investigations, property crimes and neighborhood resources. Budgeting, accounting and human resources functions will be consolidated into the new Business Services Bureau and managed by non-commissioned employees in an effort to keep trained police officers focused on fighting crime.

Straub said the overall goal is to provide “a more streamlined command structure” that improves coordination among those whose primary duties are similar, while increasing responsibility and accountability in the department’s push to reduce and prevent crime.

The chief was hired by Mayor David Condon to take over a department that’s suffered through a series of image-bruising controversies, including an FBI probe that led to an excessive force conviction in the beating of unarmed janitor Otto Zehm and called into question the department’s ability to impartially investigate its own officers.

Straub said today that crime has risen across Spokane recently and while efforts are underway to address issues raised by the Zehm case the department also has to refocus on crime fighting.

“I think the department has been distracted,” he said. “I think they were rightfully distracted by that … but those issues are being dealt with at the command level.”

(This is a developing story that will be updated as more information becomes available.)