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Leader of Spokane police advisory group resigns, says Knezovich should lead department

The leader of a city police advisory board who resigned Monday, March 7, 2016, said she believes the city of Spokane should have an elected police chief and said the mayor should consider naming Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich to the post. In this photo, Knezovich speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, June 20, 2012. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
The leader of a city police advisory board who resigned Monday, March 7, 2016, said she believes the city of Spokane should have an elected police chief and said the mayor should consider naming Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich to the post. In this photo, Knezovich speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, June 20, 2012. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

The leader of an eight-member board advising Spokane Mayor David Condon on hiring a new police chief resigned Monday and called on Condon to let Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich run a consolidated, regional police force.

Mary Ann Murphy, the former director of Partners with Families and Children who was chairwoman of the Police Leadership Advisory Committee, said her decision stems from the hiring of former U.S. Attorney Jim McDevitt as the city’s temporary “law enforcement director.”

“He isn’t able to have a discussion about racial bias,” Murphy said about McDevitt. “You don’t have to agree, but to be a leader you have to be able to have a conversation.”

Murphy submitted her resignation after the advisory committee completed most of its work, which included issuing recommendations on the police chief job description and search process. Murphy’s decision leaves a culture audit of the police department, the final aspect of the committee’s work, incomplete.

However, Brian Coddington, Condon’s spokesman, said the committee’s work is done.

“The Police Leadership Advisory Committee completed its work,” Coddington said. “There is some work going on with a cultural audit that the police department has taken a lead on. That work is well underway.”

Coddington said the city received bids from firms seeking to lead the police chief search on Friday, and the city is on track to meet its goal of hiring a new chief by July 1.

Murphy, however, said she is disappointed with how Condon and other administration officials responded to the committee’s work and recommendations.

In January, the group issued recommendations for qualities the next leader of the Spokane Police Department should have: openness to reform, support for community policing and a record of integrity.

McDevitt does not have those qualities and so doesn’t qualify to lead the department, Murphy said.

“The mayor can’t accept our recommendations and have Jim McDevitt in office,” Murphy said, pointing to an opinion article examining race and policing McDevitt wrote for The Spokesman-Review last year that said the “real problem” wasn’t police shootings of black men, but violent crime in African-American communities.

“As people read it, they were really shocked,” Murphy said of committee members. “Jim didn’t want to discuss it and he took any questions as questioning his integrity and he left in a huff.”

McDevitt, who was the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Washington from 2001 to 2010, has defended the article previously, and asserted his ability to be fair.

“It’s really sad because I’m trying to help out here,” he said in February. “I’m trying to provide some stability. I think within law enforcement and maybe in the community I’ve earned a pretty good reputation for being fair, for being objective, for not being biased in any way or form.”

Coddington stressed that McDevitt is only temporarily in charge of the department.

“He won’t be the police chief,” Coddington said. “He’s already said he has no interest in being the police chief.”

Murphy also called for more independence for the next chief and recommended changing the city charter to elect a chief rather than have a mayor hire and supervise one.

“The chief of police can’t tell the truth because the chief of police reports to the mayor,” she said, noting that a chief should serve the public, not a mayor.

Murphy said the best possible alternative to a charter change would be to let Knezovich lead the department, which he has said he would be willing to do in recent years.

“Most of the citizens in this region trust him,” Murphy said of Knezovich. “That’s the single most defensible thing we can do, as a placeholder.”

Condon has said before that’s unlikely to happen, and Coddington reiterated that conviction.

“We are moving forward with hiring a new police chief,” Coddington said. “At this point, they are separate and distinct agencies with separate and distinct missions.”