Spokane deserves an explanation.
Not because $43,000 is a serious bite out of the municipal budget, but because the public’s business should be done in public view.
Yet City Hall is mum about either the who, the what or the why surrounding a decision, approved by the City Council on Monday, to rehire a police officer who had been dismissed after being accused of using excessive force.
Police and other public safety workers occupy a special place in community life. Peace of mind is possible because they place themselves between the rest of us and the mortal dangers that disrupt civil order. The heroic welcome received this week by wounded Coeur d’Alene Police Officer Mike Kralicek when he returned home from lengthy hospitalization typifies the admiration with which law enforcement officers are granted.
At the same time, police officers who volunteer for those risks are themselves granted unparalleled discretion to restrict liberty and make life-or-death decisions.
In most cases that discretion is executed properly and professionally, justifying the trust society places in law enforcement officials. Sometimes, though, there are exceptions. A rogue cop who gets out of line violates trust, victimizes society and betrays fellow officers. Accountability is missing when the public is denied to opportunity to know the facts and reach its own decision about the way misconduct is treated.
What do the citizens of Spokane know about the case that wound up on Monday’s Spokane City Council agenda? Practically nothing.
The officer, a sergeant at the time, was terminated over excessive force allegations. On Monday, the City Council approved a budget amendment authorizing expenditure of $43,214 to rehire the officer at the lower rank of detective. City Human Resources Director Mike Shea and Deputy Mayor Jack Lynch alluded to an arbitration settlement, but that’s it. Who the officer is, the details of the accusations, the rationale for reversing the decision – all unexplained. The council members have discussed it only in executive session, meaning out of public sight or hearing.
Police officials in Spokane are mindful of image. When there is good news to celebrate, they invite public attention, as they did in advance of an award presentation on Thursday to veteran Sgt. Michael Yates.
“I hope you can cover this brief luncheon presentation, about 12:30 on the ground floor of the Ridpath,” Dick Cottam, the departments public information officer, wrote at the beginning of a news release. “I’ll help you get interviews and information.”
Congratulations to Sgt. Yates. But the Police Department and City Council should also be helpful in telling the public about things that go wrong and what’s done to rectify them.
Local journalism is essential.
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