Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich has once again offered to lead the Spokane Police Department as a search to replace former Chief Frank Straub gets underway.
Knezovich brought up the idea at a December meeting with Mary Ann Murphy, chairwoman of the Police Leadership Advisory Committee. The group appointed by Mayor David Condon provides input on the hiring process for a new chief.
Knezovich said he doesn’t expect the proposal to gain traction.
“I don’t know if there’s enough political will to allow that to happen,” he said.
Both City Council President Ben Stuckart and Mayor David Condon said they wouldn’t consider Knezovich’s offer as an option.
Knezovich previously offered to serve as interim police chief in 2011 after former Chief Anne Kirkpatrick stepped down. Following the offer, county commissioners and Condon expressed support for a regional police force, and Condon said he wanted to recruit a new chief with an understanding of a metro police model, where a city and county have one combined law enforcement agency.
Straub presided over a metro police force at his previous job in Indianapolis, but he said in 2013 that combining city and county law enforcement was not on the horizon for Spokane.
Knezovich’s current proposal would not include a consolidation of the police department and the Sheriff’s Office. Instead, he said, the agencies would remain separate and he would continue to serve as an elected sheriff while being contracted by the city to work as police chief. That setup would lead to better resource-sharing between the agencies, he said.
“I bring pretty much instant credibility to the leadership of the agency because of the job that the Sheriff’s Office has done over the last 10 years,” he said.
After Straub was removed by Condon in September, he authored a report for the city blaming the police department’s old guard for a lack of progress on reform efforts. Knezovich said he’d be able to make more progress on changing department culture than a chief recruited from outside.
“I bring something that a chief from the outside maybe doesn’t bring, and that’s support of the citizens. That’s the key to being successful,” he said.
Knezovich said he expressed interest in the job because citizens keep asking him whether it’s possible for him to serve as police chief.
Two of the 46 comments submitted to the city as of Dec. 22 about the police chief search process and job description also suggest Knezovich should do the job.
“I’m willing to pursue it because the citizens have asked me to,” he said.
Murphy and other committee members spent much of December meeting with community leaders and law enforcement to gather suggestions on how the city should hire a new police chief, including a job description. They’re due to issue a report with recommendations in late January.
Because the committee’s work is focused on the hiring process, Murphy said, recommending specific candidates was outside the scope of their work. She has received comments from citizens at public forums suggesting the city should hire someone like Knezovich, she said.
Collaboration between city and county law enforcement has suffered over the past few years, Murphy said, though she wasn’t sure whether that was an issue with Straub or one that predated his three years in office.
The committee will recommend that “whoever is chosen as the police chief be open to making the more efficient use of resources that collaboration would allow for,” she said.
She said she wasn’t sure how Knezovich’s proposal would work but appreciated the offer.
“I think it enriches our debate, our discussion about what is needed,” she said.
City Council President Ben Stuckart said he hadn’t heard of Knezovich’s current proposal before being asked about it, but he said contracting with Knezovich for the chief job is not an option.
“It needs to be inside the city government and not some interlocal agreement with an elected official,” he said.
Condon also had not heard of the proposal, but he said in a written statement he would not support Knezovich working as both chief and sheriff.
“Spokane deserves a full-time chief who is focused on serving the 210,000 people within the city limits,” Condon wrote. “The Police Leadership Advisory Committee is leading a public discussion about the job description, the attributes of the next chief and the selection process. I am confident the search process, guided by the feedback from the community, will find the best fit for Spokane.”
Interim police Chief Rick Dobrow declined to comment on Knezovich’s offer.