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

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Editorial: Revolving-door leadership harms police, city


Count back five Spokane County sheriffs, you go back to 1957.

Count back five Spokane police chiefs, and you go all the way back to – 2006.

Might this be telling us something?

Spokane Mayor David Condon says he wants a new police chief in place by July 1. What the city needs is a police chief who can keep the job to July 1, 2021, at the least.

Instability has done immense damage to the search for new police leadership. One former chief, Anne Kirkpatrick, says the Spokane department has become known in the law enforcement community as the place where careers go to die, and she would know.

Kirkpatrick was no match for a corps of officers that countenanced the beating and suffocation death of Otto Zehm at the hands of Karl F. Thompson Jr. and others. She recovered her reputation and sanity by retreating to home turf on the West Side.

And the department’s culture is not the only problem.

Jim McDevitt, whom Condon appointed law enforcement director until the new chief is in place, has been beaten up by members of the committee organized to find a successor to Frank Straub, the most recent of the fly-by chiefs.

As U.S. attorney, McDevitt took on the Zehm case when the county prosecutor would not. He had to know the force would not be happy with his interim appointment, but he took the job anyway.

What he didn’t expect was the blowback from fellow committee members offended by an opinion column he wrote for The Spokesman-Review last March in which he discussed – not defended – racial profiling.

McDevitt has been a leader in the community’s effort to adopt “smart justice” measures that will help ease the heavy-handed law enforcement most often inflicted on members of minority communities.

Now, he’s resigned from the search committee, as has Kennewick police Chief Ken Hohenberg. He probably won’t be applying for the Spokane job.

Kirkpatrick suggested Spokane police needs a “change agent,” but one from within the region. Instead, why not consider the process that has filled the sheriff’s position going back at least as far as 1957.

With the exception of Mark Sterk, every sheriff was groomed from within. But Sterk was a Lewis and Clark High School graduate, state representative and Spokane police sergeant when elected to the office on his second try in 1998. Hardly an outsider.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who has suggested more than once that local law enforcement be combined under his command, says candidates for police chief should be allowed to bring in their own senior staff. That might at least give him or her the comfort of familiar, loyal faces.

Straub cowed many of his subordinates. The ranks were tellingly quiet when Condon forced him out.

The Spokane Police Department has many fine officers, and is hiring more. They need long-term leadership; an individual or a team with integrity that can build on the good work they are doing today.

The search could start nearby – in the Public Safety Building.