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

Former Police Chief Frank Straub says ‘old guard’ in department have a stranglehold on reform efforts

In his final work for the city of Spokane, ousted police Chief Frank Straub criticized the “old guard” in the department and said they were to blame for any lack of reform.

Though the report Straub delivered to City Hall on Monday was intended to “institutionalize” his reform efforts in the department, he used the document to lambaste those who he said had a “stranglehold” on the department and were actively working against him.

Straub said members of his command staff, as well as rank-and-file police officers, “worked to protect the old culture, undermine the reforms, and marginalize officers” who supported his reforms.

Brian Coddington, the mayor’s spokesman, said city and police department officials are reviewing the report, and may have “follow-up questions to either provide clarity or provide additional information.”

Coddington said the overriding goal of the report is to ensure any progress made under Straub is maintained.

“He’s delivered everything we expected him to deliver,” Coddington said. “Those materials will be reviewed by the folks in the Spokane Police Division that they’re more useful to. There was a lot of great progress that was made and our goal is to keep that.”

Besides the report, Straub also delivered a memorandum about a program to keep low-level offenders out of jail.

The two documents, which Coddington has described as the “lion’s share” of Straub’s work since he was forced to resign in September, constitute 1,859 words. In the 83 days between Straub’s removal and when the reports were turned in, Straub earned about $40,800. That’s about $22 a word.

Straub was forced to resign after employees accused him of inappropriate behavior, including allegations of sexual harassment from the department’s former spokeswoman, Monique Cotton. Straub remains the highest paid employee at City Hall, making $179,484 through the end of the year.

When Mayor David Condon announced Straub’s removal as chief, he said Straub would be reassigned to the city attorney’s office, where he would work on criminal justice issues.

In the days following his re-election, Condon said he expected Straub to put together a report on criminal justice initiatives in a “coherent way.”

“We really don’t have the depth of the programmatic information, especially from other communities where these were started,” Condon said, referring to youth outreach programs. “So I want to make sure we have that so we can build from that. We’ve really focused more on the implementation side of that, so now I really want to make sure we also have the credentials for those programs, the resources that were utilized to develop those programs.”

Straub wrote five paragraphs about the youth outreach programs.

One thing Condon said he wanted from Straub that doesn’t appear to have been completed was a report on “the security of urban centers, and how that’s done differently across the United States.”

Straub was told to create a report outlining the department’s strategy for its youth outreach programs, called the Youth and Police Initiative, and the Police Youth Athletic League. Instead, Straub offered his “perspective” on the programs.

Both, he said, were successful but needed to secure funding mechanisms.

Coddington said the city wants to sustain those programs because both were popular with officers and kids who were involved.

“How do we institutionalize that? How do we keep those programs moving forward?” Coddington said.

Straub devoted three paragraphs about the Faith and Community Leaders Alliance, saying it “must be sustained.”

Straub also delivered a “memorandum” describing his efforts to bring a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program to Spokane. These programs are intended to keep low-level offenders out of jail and direct them to programs to help with addiction or other issues. Straub said he was unable to fully describe what he had done because the city had blocked his access to his police department computer and internal website.

Overall, Straub’s main report details his frustration with the department’s culture, especially considering where it was when he was hired in 2012.

“At the time, it was believed the police department failed to properly investigate Otto Zehm’s death, had intentionally released false information, and that police officers had lied under oath,” Straub wrote. “Community outrage reached the breaking point after 50 police officers stood and saluted the Officer Thompson as he was led from the federal courtroom.”

One of the officers who saluted, Craig Meidl, was elevated to the role of assistant chief under Straub, a post he willingly gave up but recently regained.

Straub said he pushed against forces protecting “the old culture,” but was unsuccessful.

“I tried to break the ‘stranglehold’ these officers had on the department, in the end, it contributed to my termination, as it ended the tenure of previous chiefs,” he wrote.

Straub’s attorney, Mary Schultz, previously named former chiefs Anne Kirkpatrick and Alan Chertok who were pushed out of their jobs in a “methodical, damaging process.” She did not return calls seeking comment. Straub has filed a $4 million claim against the city alleging violation of due process.

Though Straub said “the pace of reform was intense, and the changes dramatic” under his leadership, he said further reforms for the department are impeded by a “hostile environment” that is defined by an internecine conflict between the old guard and emerging creative leaders who embrace community policing.”

Coddington suggested Straub’s description of a police department culture in conflict wasn’t right.

“There’s been some great progress,” he said. “People are aligned as far as what the outcomes need to be.”