Recent leadership shakeups in the Spokane Police Department have sidelined a project to analyze data on the race of people stopped by police officers.
Eastern Washington University professor Ed Byrnes and downtown precinct Capt. Brad Arleth released a report in spring 2015 showing Spokane police disproportionately stopped black and Native American people over a six-month period.
Their plan was to collect more data and start looking at individual neighborhoods to see if the pattern held. Byrnes also wanted to analyze how other factors like crime rates, neighborhood demographics and income levels affected disproportionality.
Since their first report, Byrnes and Arleth have collected data on about 20,000 police stops spanning 18 months. Byrnes analyzed the data and found similar disparities in officer-initiated stops and hopes to have a report out in the next few weeks. But neighborhood-level analysis is more complicated.
“We spent basically our own time getting together to do the data analysis,” Arleth said. “We had hoped to be able to have the time and funding to use that dataset” to look at neighborhood-level trends.
Efforts to move forward with the research have stalled since the city fired former Spokane police Chief Frank Straub last fall. Gloria Ochoa-Bruck, the city’s director of multicultural affairs, said multiple changes in leadership have made it difficult to pursue funding from the police department.
“Straub resigned and then we re-engaged Rick Dobrow. We had to get him up to speed because he was not very familiar,” she said, referring to the former interim police chief, who retired at the end of February.
Byrnes said he’s heard nothing since he submitted a contract in March for the Police Department to pay for one of his classes at Eastern so he could spend that time working on the project.
“It’s obvious for anyone to see that this is not a huge priority for City Hall,” Byrnes said.
A committee made of members of Mayor David Condon’s Advisory Committee on Multicultural Affairs was meeting regularly to discuss the results and make a plan to address them. That group also stopped meeting late last year.
“I’m disappointed in it,” said Sandy Williams, who was part of the group and is also a commissioner with the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs. “I thought we were on the verge of doing some important work.”
Ochoa-Bruck discussed the research with Jim McDevitt, Spokane’s law enforcement director, who took over after Dobrow retired. McDevitt said the research was one of many department initiatives he hasn’t been able to complete during his four-month tenure leading the Police Department, which ends next week.
“It’s certainly not a dead issue … but a lot of these things cost money,” he said. The department is working to address concerns about racial disproportionality, he said, citing procedural justice training and a contract with Gonzaga University to complete a culture audit, both of which were part of the Department of Justice’s recommendations for the department.
He said the contract to pay for Byrnes’ time has not made it across his desk. He’s also put the research on a list of things for the next police chief to check on, he said.
The city is now hoping to integrate Arleth and Byrnes’ research with other criminal justice system reforms that the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council is working on, Ochoa-Bruck said, though a meeting to get that work off the ground is still being organized. The council is working with a $1.75 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation to reduce jail overcrowding and racial disparities.
“Law enforcement being the point of contact, that’s kind of the feeder to the whole system,” Ochoa-Bruck said. When the county’s new system for dispatch and police reports goes online this fall, all county law enforcement agencies other than the Cheney Police Department will begin collecting data on the race of people they stop, she said.
Byrnes said he’ll be happy to work with the county to look at larger trends. Even if he doesn’t get funding, he plans to continue looking at the data he’s collected.
“I’m still chipping away at this,” he said.