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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Police chief finalists stress public’s trust

Mayor says city plans to finalize hiring decision by next month

City leaders hope one of four candidates for Spokane police chief has the management skills necessary to tackle the challenges facing the department.

The four men from police forces in San Francisco, Indianapolis, Rochester, N.Y., and Stockton, Calif., will be in Spokane July 25 for five interviews, including one that will be open to the public. Panelists for the interviews will include government executives, elected officials, current and retired law enforcement professionals, community and business leaders, members of the Public Safety Committee, the mayor’s transition team and the Police Advisory Committee.

Mayor David Condon said the city remains on track to select a new chief by next month.

The finalists are: Daniel J. Mahoney, commanding officer of the Ingleside Police Station within the San Francisco Police Department; George E. Markert, director of the Office of Public Integrity in Rochester; Frank Straub, director of public safety in Indianapolis and former commissioner of the Department of Public Safety in White Plains, N.Y.; and Blair Ulring, retired police chief of Stockton.

Straub told an Indianapolis TV station that Condon asked him to apply.

City Council President Ben Stuckart said he’s looking forward to asking candidates how they would respond in various scenarios.

“We’ve been dealing with various lawsuits in our community, as well as policing issues,” Stuckart said. “So those are going to be huge. How do you handle firings? How do you take legal advice?”

Stuckart said it’s also important that the new chief have a good relationship with the Spokane Police Guild.

“You don’t need the police chief and the guild butting heads from the get-go,” Stuckart said. “You’ve got to have a real working and collaborative relationship.”

City Council member Michael Allen said he’s interested in the management style of the candidates as well as “the success they’ve shown through their leadership in the past and also a very good understanding of the challenges we’ve had here in Spokane,” Allen said.

City Council member Amber Waldref said she’s looking for a police chief who works with the union “and gets them on board and working as a team.”

The ideal candidate will have “experience in implementing change,” she said. “I think that would be a strong thing on a résumé to look for.”

At least two of the finalists, Straub and Ulring, have strained relationships with unions.

The Stockton Police Department’s officer union offered a vote of no confidence in Ulring in 2010. Straub announced his resignation in Indianapolis just before the City Council was expected to deliver a vote of no confidence. He’s been criticized by the rank-and-file but praised by Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, who told the Indianapolis Star that Straub was faced with the difficult task of updating and modernizing the department.

“It hasn’t always been easy, but meaningful reform seldom is,” Ballard told the Star in an April article.

Ulring was a finalist for police chief in Flagstaff, Ariz. Union leaders in Stockton emailed the city’s manager and said Ulring was a “vindictive” and “two-faced” politician who was unwilling to stand up for his officers, according to the Arizona Daily Sun. He was nicknamed “The Emperor” and “The Dictator,” the newspaper reported. But the city’s manager said Ulring was one of the best police chiefs in the country.

Ulring could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Straub did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Mahoney told The Spokesman-Review he’s researched the Spokane Police Department and the issues surrounding it.

“There’s a perceived lack of trust with the police department from the Otto Zehm case and the Shonto Pete case,” Mahoney said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Zehm was a mentally disabled janitor who died after a confrontation with police in 2006 after being erroneously accused of theft. Pete was shot in the head while running away from off-duty Spokane police Officer Jay Olsen, who was acquitted of assault by a jury but resigned before he could be fired.

Mahoney said he’s noticed the “vitriol” that is contained in comments about news stories concerning law enforcement in the Spokane area.

“It’s clear there are some people who have concerns about the loss of trust,” he said.

Spokane and the policing issues here “intrigued me,” Mahoney said.

“It looked like it had some of the issues and the challenges that played to my strengths.”

Mahoney was in charge of the San Francisco Police Department’s legal division and has overseen criminal investigations into officers as commander of the Office of Chief of Staff from August 2010 to about May 2011.

“I oversaw all the complex, sensitive investigations that we had in the city involving public corruption and those involving allegations of criminal misconduct by police officers,” Mahoney said.

Markert was executive deputy chief of the Rochester Police Department from 2007 to 2011, when he was tapped to head the city’s Office of Public Integrity, which investigates public corruption.

“I think the role I’m in now and my experience as a more traditional police manager will serve me well in Spokane,” Markert said in a phone interview Wednesday from Rochester. “I understand the past issues in Spokane and how they kind of permeated or fermented into some ongoing relationship problems between the police and the community.”

Markert said he’s never been to Spokane but has “heard a lot of good things about it.”

Markert said he’s not ready to discuss policy ideas or possible changes he may pursue.

“I can make no assumptions. I have to come in and I have to build a relationship with both the internal stakeholders and the external stakeholders,” Markert said. “I’m not going to walk in with any preconceived idea because I want to hear from the people who know best what their issues and concerns are.”