Spokane Mayor David Condon said Friday that the Lilac City’s next police chief will not come from the ranks of the Spokane Police Department and indicated that he favors consolidating some police functions with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.
Condon said he’s reopening the search for chief, which no longer includes Interim Chief Scott Stephens.
“I want someone who has a full understanding of a metro-policing model,” Condon said. “I think this is a good time to relaunch the search.”
Metro police agencies typically are a blend of city and county law enforcement, a model that a growing number of cities are exploring.
He noted that Stephens has worked his entire career in Spokane. “He’s been a great team member,” Condon said of Stephens, who did not attend the news conference. “But ultimately, it was my decision.”
Stephens could not be reached Friday for comment.
Condon said he recently met with Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who earlier advocated consolidating the two police agencies.
Knezovich said Condon “wants to make sure this is a good fit. I don’t want to speak for the mayor, but it was my understanding that (full consolidation) … is not off the table,” he said.
The agencies already share property rooms, records and are currently looking at joining dispatch services. “The only thing left … is police work and leadership,” he said.
Condon was adamant Friday that the city would have a police chief regardless of any future changes. And the new chief will be “someone who has implemented this in the past or who is in favor” of the metro-policing model.
He didn’t identify previous applicants for the police chief job, and he said he may search out prospective leaders elsewhere and ask them to apply. He set a deadline of June 30 for applications.
“I want to make sure Spokane has the best person to choose from,” he said.
During his campaign, Condon said his top priority was restoring the citizens’ trust in the police department following the Otto Zehm investigation.
In that case, former Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. was convicted last November of using excessive force and lying to investigators to explain his actions during the 2006 confrontation in which Zehm was beaten, shocked with a Taser and hogtied after being mistakenly implicated in a possible theft. He never regained consciousness and died two days later.
Two other officers, Timothy Moses and Sandra McIntyre, also remain under investigation for federal obstruction charges.
Condon acknowledged that the ongoing criminal investigation – and potential civil review by the U.S. Department of Justice – may have given some chief candidates second thoughts about applying for the job.
Condon said he continues to support a department-wide, federal “pattern and practice” review, which was requested by former Mayor Mary Verner, but said he has not heard anything from federal officials.
Condon said he’s not pleased with the current model of police ombudsman but indicated that any changes would have to come through negotiations with the Spokane Police Guild. The mayor said he had not talked with guild president Ernie Wuthrich for about 30 days.
A call to Wuthrich was not immediately returned late Friday.
“I agree we need to make progress so we can attract a top-notch police chief,” Condon said. Stephens “would have been good. But when I look at the type of police chief and the major initiatives we want to implement, I owe it to the citizens to go find that person.”
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