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Sun., Dec. 23, 2012

Editorial: Public ought to weigh in on City Hall, police moves

Because credibility had been so badly damaged, Spokane Mayor David Condon shook up City Hall after taking office. Now his pick for police chief is shaking up the Police Department in a bid to rebuild public trust.

It’s too soon to judge whether these moves will make a significant impact, but the community can’t complain that it’s business as usual. There’s a whole lotta shakin’ going on.

On the day after the Use of Force Commission issued its report on reforming Police Department policies, Chief Frank Straub on Friday unveiled an overhaul that includes some of the recommendations. The reports were not coordinated, but panel recommendations such as revamped education, training and body cameras are also in Straub’s plan.

The chief’s goal is a faster, more flexible force, so he’s installing a flatter structure to improve coordination among officers. The plan puts an emphasis on achieving outcomes, rather than following military-style protocols. Crime data will be continuously monitored for clues on where to best deploy officers. The plan also incorporates regular assessments so the department can build on what works and dump what doesn’t. Even without the credibility problems, this plan looks like the right strategy for a police force that has dwindled in size.

One very encouraging sign is a greater attention to transparency and the dissemination of public information. Over the years, the department has struggled to convey information in a timely, complete manner. A professional civilian communications director will be hired to run the information operation, including updating the website and taking advantage of social media tools, such as Twitter.

The chief’s plan also gives a nod to the important role the media play in covering crime and telling the department’s story. Respecting the media’s role would go a long way toward repairing the department’s image as an organization that has walled itself off from the community.

The Use of Force Commission report concluded a yearlong study of the Police Department. The commission issued 26 recommendations designed to restore trust in the wake of the Otto Zehm controversy. One highlight is the call for a citizens advisory panel for the police ombudsman.

Condon also announced on Thursday that he wants to place on the August ballot a tax increase that would finance some of the recommended changes.

This flurry of activity leaves the public with much to digest. Hearings for public comments on the Use of Force Commission’s recommendations will be held Jan. 16 and Jan. 30. That report can be viewed at Comments can be sent to The chief’s plan can also be found at We encourage the public to read the reports and weigh in.

The city has a new mayor, new police chief and, with the commission’s guidance and executive initiative, can finally turn to the future of public safety in Spokane, not the past.

To respond to this editorial online, go to and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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