A dedication to community policing was high on the wish list of the dozen or so Spokane residents who attended a forum Tuesday to provide input on hiring the city’s next police chief.
Many also said the short tenure of Spokane’s recent police chiefs suggested a need to hire closer to home.
“Since we started hiring from the outside in Spokane, we’ve averaged about 2.5 years for a police chief,” said Phil Tyler, vice president of the Spokane NAACP. Though a fresh face can bring new ideas, “that’s bad for continuity,” he said.
The department’s longest-serving modern chief, Terry Mangan, was also the first outside hire, recruited from Bellingham in 1987. More recent chiefs, including former Chief Frank Straub, have come from farther away and lasted only a few years.
“It’s very possible that our best person is local, but the only way you’re going to be able to prove that to me and to the community is through a national search,” said Mary Lou Johnson, who works with the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council and lost a bid for county commissioner last year. Her comment drew nods of approval from other attendees.
The forum, held at the Northeast Community Center, is the first of three hosted by the city’s Police Leadership Advisory Committee.
The seven-member committee was appointed by Mayor David Condon to provide input on the hiring process, job description and desired qualities for a new chief following the forced resignation of Straub in September.
Its members include a former U.S. attorney, the Kennewick police chief, City Councilman Jon Snyder, and leaders of mental health and community groups including the Spokane NAACP and The Native Project.
Forum attendees included people from several neighborhood councils, Spokane Community Oriented Policing Services, community groups and the police ombudsman commission.
Some committee members raised concerns that Straub’s ouster in the wake of allegations he sexually harassed an employee and belittled subordinates might make qualified candidates think twice about applying to be chief.
“We have to sell Spokane with the fact that the last two police chiefs left in unattractive ways,” said committee chair Mary Ann Murphy, the former executive director of Partners with Families and Children.
Despite the “loose ends” related to Straub’s departure, Snyder said, Spokane remains on the forefront of efforts to reform policing, citing the Department of Justice review and the body camera program.
“We have not gotten to where we need to be, but we are very ahead of some cities,” he said.
Nearly everyone agreed understanding Spokane’s tendency to feel like a small town would be important for success.
“If they don’t understand that dynamic, they’re going to fly in the face of how this place works,” said Kathryn Alexander, co-chair of the Bemiss Neighborhood Council.
For some, a chief who understands how subconscious racial bias can impact policing was a must.
When a prospective chief is asked about racial bias, “if they answer that they don’t have any and they don’t see color, that’s a huge red flag,” said Jackson Andrews, who does community outreach for American Ironworks, a Spokane company.
The committee will hold two public forums Dec. 16 at the West Central and East Central community centers to gather more input on the hiring process and make recommendations to the mayor by Jan. 15.
People can also submit comments to the committee by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by leaving a voicemail at (509) 625-6281.
This story was updated on Dec. 2 to clarify Mary Lou Johnson’s relationship with the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council.