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

Police reforms are more than ‘simple policy change’

Spokane is the second city to undergo a voluntary review with the Community Oriented Policing Services office of the Justice Department, after Chief Frank Straub requested an audit of use-of-force policies and practices in the fall of 2013.

Straub’s request came after then-Mayor Mary Verner said she would seek a full “patterns and practices” review of the police department by the Office of Civil Rights in November 2011, just a few weeks before the end of her term.

The collaborative reform process looks into specific areas of concern identified by the department, while a patterns and practices review is a more comprehensive investigation of department policy and actions.

In a patterns and practices review, the Justice Department can legally compel police reforms through a consent decree if civil rights violations are found. A monitor, paid for by the city, must oversee those reforms, sometimes at significant cost to the city. In 2013, New Orleans signed a four-year contract worth about $8 million for a consent decree monitor, according to a Times-Picayune report.

Reviews like Spokane’s are paid for with a Justice Department grant, though the cost of implementing recommended reforms is borne by the police department.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department was the first police department in the U.S. to undergo a collaborative review in 2011. Voluntary reviews are also pending in Philadelphia and St. Louis County, Missouri, while the Seattle Police Department is under a consent decree after a 2012 patterns and practices review found a pattern of excessive use of force.

In Las Vegas, the Justice Department made 80 recommendations in November 2012 after reviewing five years of officer-involved shootings. Since those recommendations came out, officer-involved shootings have declined from a high of 25 in 2010 to 13 in 2013, with 15 shootings to date in 2014. Use-of-force complaints also declined about 18 percent from 2012 to 2013.

“We took their recommendations, we took them seriously. The end result of that is we have officers that are better trained and have better tactics, which in turn means they are safer when they’re doing their jobs,” said Las Vegas police Lt. Andrew Walsh.

To date, the department has implemented 72 of the proposed reforms. Las Vegas Asst. Sheriff Kirk Primas said reform is a process that takes time, and urged Spokane and other cities undergoing a review to be patient.

“All reform takes time. It’s not a matter of simple policy change,” he said.

Rachel Alexander