A shakeup in the Spokane Police Department has left three top jobs vacant and no uniformed officers within much of the command staff.
The latest change came Wednesday when the department’s second-highest ranking officer, Assistant Chief Craig Meidl, notified Chief Frank Straub that he was stepping down from the command staff to return to a civil service position as a lieutenant.
“We’re frustrated by the amount of change,” said Lt. Dave McCabe, who was elected president of the Spokane Police Lieutenants and Captains Association this week and has served in four different jobs in the past year. “But we also understand that the chief is only a year into the job and he’s trying to find the right people for the right places.”
Meidl’s announcement followed the recent demotion of Brad Arleth as the commander of field operations to a captain in the investigations department and the recent decision of Joe Walker to step down as the commander of investigations to return to a civil service position as lieutenant.
Last summer, the Spokane City Council at Straub’s request created six departments within the Police Department. The move allowed Mayor David Condon and Straub to hire a director and assistant director for each department without having to follow strict civil service rules. Straub filled some of the positions with veteran commissioned officers. Uniformed officers in those positions were called commanders.
The approval of the new departments increased the possible number of police positions outside civil service protections from two (the chief and assistant chief) to 14.
Most of those positions are now unfilled, and none are filled by commanders. Two of the six departments are led by non-commissioned employees who are called directors.
Police spokeswoman Monique Cotton said Meidl and Straub were not available for interviews. Attempts to reach Walker and Arleth were unsuccessful Friday.
Councilman Jon Snyder, who leads the City Council’s public safety committee, said he’s not overly concerned about the changes because the three veterans will remain in the department in leadership roles.
“Chief Straub has really worked to change the culture of the department in a whole lot of ways, and one of the ways is that the top positions are really demanding,” Snyder said. “I hesitate to read anything more into it.”
McCabe said Walker requested the change because after a year of 55- to 60-hour workweeks, he needed to spend more time with his family.
“He did feel the frustration of the multiple changes within the department and had a general feeling that people didn’t have a chance to get their legs underneath them before change happened again,” McCabe said. “He agreed that change was necessary but he also felt that stability was just as necessary at times.”
The three demotions will result in pay cuts. Meidl’s salary will fall from about $149,000 to about $112,000. Walker’s pay fell from $138,500 a year to $114,000. Arleth’s fell from $144,000 to $132,000.
City spokesman Brian Coddington said the change to Arleth’s job was a “mutual decision” between him and Straub.
“He has a skill set and experience that matched a need within the department,” Coddington said.
Straub has nominated Selby Smith, a veteran Drug Enforcement Administration official, to replace Walker and lead the investigations department. The City Council will consider the choice on Feb. 10.
Cotton, one of the two civilian directors in the department, said Meidl, who has served in the department since 1994, will return to patrol in the rank of lieutenant, his civil service rank before he was named assistant chief.
She said the department won’t immediately fill the assistant chief job.
“A determination will be made within the next couple of weeks regarding the position and potential candidates,” she said in an email.
Meidl was promoted to assistant chief by Straub in December 2012. He was a surprise pick because Straub bypassed Scott Stephens, who was then serving as assistant chief. Stephens had been the interim chief before Straub arrived in Spokane.
“In all of the positions he has held, Craig has done an exceptional job and has shown outstanding dedication to the department,” said a statement released by Cotton.