Interim Spokane police Chief Rick Dobrow remained tight-lipped Tuesday about his reasons for placing the leader of the downtown police precinct on leave, saying only that it was related to allegations of a “serious violation of policy.”
Dobrow placed Capt. Brad Arleth on paid leave Monday after learning of an internal complaint made about Arleth last week, he said. The allegations against Arleth are not criminal, Dobrow said, and are not related to the ongoing criminal cases involving Sgt. Gordon Ennis, who is accused of raping a fellow officer at a party last fall, and Sgt. John Gately, who is accused of tipping off Ennis about the investigation.
The internal investigation into the complaint against Arleth is “the highest priority right now,” Dobrow said.
“I don’t want one of my command personnel being out in limbo for an extended period of time,” he said.
City Council President Ben Stuckart and Councilman Jon Snyder, who leads the Public Safety Committee, both said Tuesday they had not heard anything definitive about the allegations against Arleth. Stuckart said he planned to ask Dobrow for an explanation and hopes the situation is resolved soon.
“I’ve only had good dealings with (Arleth) in the past, and I know he’s got a good rapport with the DSP and business owners downtown,” Stuckart said, referring to the Downtown Spokane Partnership.
Arleth previously served as commander of field investigations and was demoted from that position in early 2014 by former Chief Frank Straub. He, along with Lt. Joe Walker, has been critical of Straub’s asset forfeiture practices, saying in a letter attached to a whistleblower investigation completed last year that Straub created a forfeiture unit to bring in more revenue for the department. Last year, he worked with an Eastern Washington University professor on a study showing Spokane police disproportionally stop black and Native American people.
Officials were vague about the source of the complaint against Arleth. When asked if the complaint was filed by a police department employee, Dobrow said it came from a city employee. He declined to say who made the complaint and said he had no comment when asked if it was filed by a city employee who did not work for the police department.
Asked about the source of the complaint, Brian Coddington, spokesman for Mayor David Condon, said he did not know who filed it and added, “Does it matter?”
Police officers are automatically placed on paid leave if they are involved in a shooting or have criminal charges filed against them. Outside of those circumstances, placing an officer on paid leave for an internal investigation is rare, said Sgt. Dave Staben, who works in Internal Affairs.
The decision to place an officer on paid leave is always made by the police chief. Staben said he could not comment on Arleth’s case specifically but said placing an officer on leave is an “unusual” step during a noncriminal investigation and usually means the allegations are “something that would result in serious discipline” if proven true.
The investigation into Arleth’s behavior was opened the week after the downtown precinct moved from the Peyton Building, next to the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza, to the city-owned Intermodal Center east of Browne Street. Straub first announced plans for a new precinct last February, saying the intermodal space would be a second downtown location. City and police department officials then considered making it a precinct for the South Hill.
When Dobrow took over as chief last fall, he announced plans to move the existing downtown precinct to the new space, saying it would save money. At a news conference Tuesday, Dobrow said he had no comment when asked by multiple reporters whether the complaint against Arleth was related to the precinct’s move.
The move initially drew concerns from Mark Richard, president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership. Richard testified at an Oct. 26 City Council meeting that he was “deeply concerned” that progress in reducing downtown crime could be undone if the precinct moved farther away from the downtown core, and said he didn’t understand why the department would move when the precinct’s lease was good until the end of May.
Since then, Richard said the police department has met with him and the partnership’s board regularly and addressed their concerns, promising to continue patrols near the STA plaza. Richard said the drop in downtown crime over the past few years has led to new businesses and residents moving downtown, and he’s optimistic those gains will continue with police in the new intermodal location.
“We feel very good about the path forward,” he said.
When asked if Arleth supported the move, Dobrow said, “He is supportive of the policing efforts downtown.” Asked to clarify whether Arleth had ever made a statement in support of or in opposition to the move, Dobrow said, “He has not expressed an opinion to me.”
The city signed a rent-free sublease with the Downtown Spokane Partnership for the Peyton Building precinct site. The sublease was effective June 1, 2013, through the end of May 2016. In lieu of rent, the partnership said the space was provided “in exchange for the city’s commitment to provide consistent, visible policing in the downtown core” with a minimum of eight neighborhood officers working.
At the news conference Tuesday, Dobrow said he’s confident the move won’t erase progress on reducing downtown crime. He noted the downtown core is shifting east and said where the precinct is located matters less than where officers spend their time on shift.
Dobrow said the police department would reimburse the partnership for the extra months on the lease. Richard said that cost would be roughly $2,500 monthly until the space is filled or the lease term ends in May. Several people have expressed interest in the space, he said.
The new precinct space in the Intermodal Center was remodeled last year by D.R. Scott Construction at a cost of about $115,000, according to an invoice approved by the city last October. That’s lower than the roughly $184,000 city asset managers said the remodel would cost when it was proposed last year, after contributions from Greyhound, which uses the center.
Ed Lukas, the city’s asset management director, said the police department would not pay rent at the new space, but would eventually be asked to pay a share of monthly maintenance and utilities expenses. He said the claim that the precinct move is cost-saving is based on calculations about likely reductions in crime and reduced time for police to respond to the area surrounding the intermodal center, not just on direct costs like rent and maintenance.
Lukas said he never heard Arleth express an opinion about the move, but said Arleth was “generous with his time” and made constructive comments about what the new space should look like.
With Arleth on leave, “some adjustments” will be needed to staff the precinct, Dobrow said. He did not elaborate on staffing changes.
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