Three men vying to be the city of Spokane’s next police chief touted their experience, integrity, commitment to the job and their ability to solve tough problems in a series of interviews Wednesday with city officials and community leaders.
Only one of the five interviews with each candidate was open to the public, but the candidates said questions largely focused on the same issues: building trust, not just with the community but within the Spokane Police Department.
The candidates, Daniel J. Mahoney, commanding officer of the Ingleside Police Station within the San Francisco Police Department; George E. Markert, director of the Office of Public Integrity in Rochester, N.Y.; and Frank Straub, director of public safety in Indianapolis and former commissioner of the Department of Public Safety in White Plains, N.Y., also participated in one-on-one interviews with Mayor David Condon.
Condon said Wednesday that if none of the candidates is suitable, he will reopen the application process.
“I’m glad, because I don’t want to rush anything,” said Susan Walker, secretary-treasurer of the Spokane Law Enforcement Museum. “We need to make sure we have the right fit.”
Walker and about a dozen other citizens visited with Mahoney, 62, Markert, 49, and Straub, 54, at a reception Wednesday evening at City Hall.
A fourth finalist, Blair Ulring, withdrew his candidacy Tuesday after a Spokesman-Review article questioned whether he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from a diploma mill.
Marlene Feist, spokeswoman for the city of Spokane, said Condon may visit the cities where the men work before selecting a chief. He’ll also review feedback from the 40 people who comprised the five interview panels and from citizens. Citizens have until Tuesday to submit their opinions.
Mahoney and Markert have garnered little public criticism through their careers, but Straub was criticized by a police union in Indianapolis and was targeted with an expected vote of no confidence by the city council before he announced his resignation in April.
In response to questions posed by Joan Butler, chairwoman of the city’s police advisory committee, and Jonathan Mallahan, director of community and neighborhood services, Straub said not listening to the police department while implementing big changes was the biggest mistake he’d ever made. He said he was hired to reform the department.
“Because I enjoyed such successes in White Plains … I didn’t spend enough time listening in Indianapolis, in all honesty,” Straub said. “I don’t know that I wouldn’t have moved the reforms forward, but I think I would have done it differently if I’d spend more time listening to the department and listening to the community.”
Straub said he enjoys the respect of many in Indianapolis, but “there’s a small faction in the police department who don’t like me and they are, unfortunately, the vocal minority.”
Straub, Mahoney and Merkert all said their first focus if selected as chief would be to get to know their employees and the stakeholders in the city.
Mahoney said he attends as many community meetings in his jurisdiction as he can and that the presence of his officers at community events is to be expected, not a surprise. He holds regular coffee-shop meetings with patrol officers and city leaders.
Mahoney said his experience in the police human resources department and in legal affairs have prepared him to deal with major issues in Spokane: police accountability and risk management. He noted that the city here has a history of firing officers who are then allowed back to work and win large legal settlements. He said the “dramatic step” of firing an officer must be done fairly, ethically and legally.
Mahoney described two officer reactions to the same scenario: A boy reports his bike stolen to police. An officer can tell the boy he’s unlikely to find the bicycle and take a report. Or he can ask about the bicycle, say it’s unlikely it will be found but offer to give the boy a ride around the block to look for it. The bike still likely isn’t to be returned.
“But the way that person viewed his interaction with law enforcement is completely 180 degrees from the first one to the second one,” Mahoney said. “I’d hope that the officers when I come on board go the second style of approach.”
Markert spoke of police liaisons in Rochester hired to build relationships with large minority populations. He said Rochester has a response team trained to deal with mental illness. He said he’s most proud of his work in establishing police “that helped reduce crime to the lowest point in 25 years.” Markert said training and refining policies should be ongoing issues.
“If we get to the point where we’re firing someone, then somebody along the way didn’t do their job,” Markert said. Markert also said it’s important to look to other services in the community when trying to address problems like youth violence downtown. “Are they downtown because they don’t have anything else to do?” Markert said.
He said his core values of honesty and integrity should be evident in everything he does.
“When I walk in the door, people need to know not only who I am but what I stand for,” he said.
Markert, Mahoney and Straub also said they hope to retire in Spokane.
“I want to contribute to a community; I want to contribute to a police department, and I want the Spokane Police Department to be what it could be,” Straub said. Straub said he’ll spend his first month determining “where do we as a department and we as the community want to see the police department.”
Straub said he hopes to enjoy the same successes he experienced in White Plains. Indianapolis, with 900,000 people, was much larger, but Spokane “is a city you can fit your arms around,” he said.
He said law enforcement must consider a “holistic” approach to fighting crime “because it’s not just about arresting people.”
He said police must recognize what they do wrong as well as what they do right.
“Sometimes you have to say you’re sorry, and I think that’s one of the things we don’t do enough,” Straub said. “We’re unwilling to admit our mistakes.”
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