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Saturday, May 25, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Dominic Rizzi: Ex-Chicago cop, current Yakima chief says he wouldn’t change marijuana enforcement

Dominic Rizzi Jr., Yakima police chief, interviews with the media, July 20, 2016, at Spokane City Hall. He is one of two candidates for Spokane police chief. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Dominic Rizzi Jr., Yakima police chief, interviews with the media, July 20, 2016, at Spokane City Hall. He is one of two candidates for Spokane police chief. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Yakima police Chief Dominic Rizzi says he has no plans to interfere with marijuana businesses in Spokane.

Rizzi, one of two finalists vying to run the Spokane Police Department, has made public statements in opposition to marijuana businesses in Yakima, disagreeing with a council proposal to lift that city’s ban on retail sales.

In an interview Wednesday, Rizzi said he took those positions because the City Council asked for his opinion as chief of police.

“There’s been an increase in takeover robberies and shootings. It’s an all-cash business,” he said. But he said he supports medical marijuana and would not plan to change the way the department patrols existing marijuana businesses in Spokane.

Before he came to Yakima in 2012, Rizzi spent 25 years with the Chicago police department, including time commanding the law enforcement operations unit, which includes 11,000 patrol and investigative officers.

Kennewick police Chief Ken Hohenberg, who served on a Spokane group advising the city on the qualifications and process for selecting a new police chief, said he’s worked closely with Rizzi.

“One of the things that he did very well was building relationships,” Hohenberg said. As a result of collaboration with other departments in the area, Hohenberg said Rizzi was able to work with him to tackle gang violence and drug crime in Central Washington.

In interviews last week, Yakima council members praised Rizzi’s work as chief.

“He’s wonderful, and we’re sad to see that he is a finalist over there because we love him over here,” Councilwoman Holly Cousens said.

Rizzi has at times clashed with the Yakima Police Patrolmans union and city officials over officer discipline.

The union unsuccessfully sued Rizzi and the department in 2014 to prevent the release of an internal investigation file, court records show.

That investigation led to the firing of a detective who was accused of sharing confidential information about a double-homicide investigation, KIMA reported.

Rizzi told the station the detective’s actions were a “betrayal” of fellow officers and could jeopardize the criminal case, while then-union President Tony Patlan said a suspension would have been more appropriate.

Rizzi recommended firing another officer who had sex with a woman who had worked as a prostitute, but former Yakima City Manager Tony O’Rourke rejected the recommendation and suspended the officer for two weeks, the Yakima Herald-Republic reported.

The newspaper also reported Rizzi drew criticism in 2015 from homeless people and advocacy groups after he began looking into the possibility of providing bus tickets to homeless people to leave the Yakima area.

In an interview Wednesday, Rizzi said he believes the article mischaracterized his position. The idea originated from officers talking to homeless people who wanted to be elsewhere but didn’t have a way to get there, he said. The idea was to provide tickets to homeless people who had family members or other resources elsewhere.

“Our officers were absolutely looking how do we help people, as opposed to dumping a problem on someone else,” he said.

Leah Ward, communications manager for Neighborhood Health Services, said Rizzi has been a “good partner” in working on homelessness. She said he attended a recent community forum on the issue, where he said being homeless is not a crime.

“He made a point of telling business and political leaders that his department treats the homeless with dignity and respect because that’s what every human deserves,” Ward said.

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