Tired of hearing negative things about the man he selected to be police chief, Mayor David Condon and his top administrator personally paid to fly four Indiana residents to Spokane to vouch for him.
The four, including the former editor of the Indianapolis Star and the leader of the Indianapolis fire union, told the Spokane City Council on Monday night that Condon’s pick, Frank Straub, is a hard-working, caring reformer who listens to the community. Straub last month left his job as Indianapolis’ public safety director after a controversial two-year tenure.
After the four Hoosiers and 10 others testified, the council appointed Straub as Spokane’s new director of law enforcement in a 6-0 vote.
The title was created because Straub is not technically qualified to be chief since he is not a commissioned police officer in Washington.
City leaders are confident that Straub, as the former leader of police departments in Indianapolis and White Plains, N.Y., will have no problem becoming commissioned.
Straub won praise for bringing reform to Indianapolis’ troubled police department, but he had poor relations with that city’s police union, which has criticized his tenure. Earlier this year, Straub resigned after a threatened vote of no-confidence by the Indianapolis City-County Council.
Condon and City Administrator Theresa Sanders said they split the cost to bring the four to Spokane. The Holiday Inn Express downtown donated accommodations.
“All we have heard was negativity,” Sanders said. “I thought folks should have an opportunity to hear the other side.”
Dennis Ryerson, who retired June 1 as the editor of the Indianapolis Star, told the council that Indianapolis’ police union often fights with the person in charge.
“Frank is a very sober, serious guy,” Ryerson said. “He got to work. He made a difference. He was courteous, always professional.”
Straub takes over a department troubled by recent scandals, most notably the death of Otto Zehm, a mentally ill Spokane man who died after he was beaten, shocked and hog-tied by police in 2006. In November, Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. was convicted of lying to investigators and violating Zehm’s civil rights.
Breean Beggs, one of the Zehm family’s attorneys, pointed to the salute given to Thompson by dozens of officers in a federal courtroom after Thompson was convicted as evidence that a cultural change is needed within the department.
“There needs to be a change. It’s going to take a very strong person to do it,” said Beggs. “Straub has already proven that he is tough enough and strong enough.”
Straub is scheduled to appear before the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission on Wednesday morning to seek a waiver of the requirement he attend the standard police training course at the academy. He’ll ask the commission to approve, instead, a certification process that he can complete online over nine weeks.
Jim Camden contributed to this report.