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New Chief Craig Meidl, Councilman Breean Beggs say Spokane should hire consultant to mend police-community relations

In this Aug. 17, 2016 file photo, Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl fields questions from concerned citizens during a public forum at East Central Community Center in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
In this Aug. 17, 2016 file photo, Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl fields questions from concerned citizens during a public forum at East Central Community Center in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

With some tension still looming over the Spokane Police Department, some city officials want to hire a consultant to facilitate “a formal process for reconciliation” with the community.

City Councilman Breean Beggs said Thursday that Spokane needs an outside agency to help rebuild trust in the department following the protracted hiring process of the new police chief.

Beggs said he’s looking at various consultants and “exploring what model might be effective” in Spokane. One option, he said, is a Seattle-based agency called Dynamic Facilitation.

The cost of hiring such an agency is justified, Beggs said, because previous efforts to mend community relations have failed.

“It’s been 10 years since Otto Zehm died, and five years since Karl Thompson was convicted, and there are still all these wounds and divides,” Beggs said. “On our own, we haven’t been able to get rid of those.”

At a City Council meeting Monday, Chief Craig Meidl said he also wants to work with specialists after researchers from Gonzaga University complete their culture audit of the department.

The council confirmed Meidl as the police chief Monday after two rounds of public forums and interviews with candidates. Mayor David Condon appointed him after the first round, a surprise move that the council initially rejected because Meidl wasn’t formally in the running.

Meidl also has faced criticism for saluting Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson in a federal courtroom in 2012, when Thompson was convicted of using excessive force in the 2006 death of Otto Zehm, a developmentally disabled janitor.

Beggs was one of the attorneys who represented the Zehm family in a lawsuit against the city.

Meidl recently spoke with the Zehm family and delivered a public apology.

“I’m going to spend every day trying to regain that trust,” Meidl said Tuesday. “I acknowledge that.”

Of his critics, he said, “I don’t have the right to tell them how they feel. But what I can do, and what I am responsible for, is my behavior.”

Meanwhile, the city’s human resources department has convened a panel to interview candidates for major and captain vacancies within the police department.

The panel’s purpose is to avoid a conflict of interest: Meidl’s wife, Tracie Meidl, was temporarily promoted to captain in July by Jim McDevitt, who was serving as law enforcement director.

The panel will include interim Human Resources Director Chris Cavanaugh, City Manager Tim Dunivant, police Lt. Justin Lundgren, former interim police Chief Rick Dobrow and human resources analyst Meghann Steinolfson.

They will conduct interviews for two major positions and two captain vacancies, Cavanaugh said.


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