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

Panel lists qualities for next police chief

Spokane’s next police chief should be an advocate for community policing who supports reform efforts and has demonstrated integrity and courage in past jobs.

Those are some of the strongest recommendations made Monday by the city’s Police Leadership Advisory Committee, an eight-member group advising Mayor David Condon on hiring a new chief.

The group delivered its first report to Condon after nearly two months of gathering public feedback through forums, comments submitted to City Hall, and meetings with law enforcement and community groups.

The committee will release a second report in mid-February with more detail, and the city hopes to begin the hiring process by the end of February, said Brian Coddington, the mayor’s spokesman.

Group members told Condon they’d heard similar themes from residents who want a chief willing to speak out against wrongdoing within the department while connecting with the community.

“The community and police department are starving for consistency,” said Jackson Andrews, a committee member and member of an alliance between faith leaders and the Spokane Police Department.

The report also makes recommendations about the job description and says the hiring process should be as transparent as possible to avoid a perception that Condon or anyone else has “hand-picked” a chief, as was suggested when the city hired former Chief Frank Straub in 2012.

“We can’t expect more honesty from the police department if we don’t conduct ourselves with the utmost honesty,” said committee chairwoman Mary Ann Murphy, the former director of Partners with Families and Children.

The search process also should include a “very thorough background investigation,” reference interviews and Google searches before any candidates are announced as finalists.

That recommendation was made after many community members expressed frustration with the hiring process for a police ombudsman earlier this year, when a quick Google search of one candidate’s name turned up comments he’d made about race and policing that many groups found unacceptable.

In Spokane’s last police chief search, a finalist withdrew from the process after The Spokesman-Review reported he’d earned a phony college degree from a diploma mill – something the city had yet to look into.

One of the recommended qualifications is a bachelor’s degree, something that could exclude interim Chief Rick Dobrow. The city’s current job description says “any combination of education and experience” that allows the chief to do the job qualifies, though it notes that this generally would include a bachelor’s degree.

According to data from the city’s human resources department, about 68 percent of current Spokane officers have a bachelor’s degree.

Coddington said the city’s human resources department would probably seek clarification on that recommendation, since city job descriptions typically use the “any combination of education or experience” language rather than requiring specific degrees outright.

The committee also recommended Spokane work with an outside agency to conduct the search.

“It brings a real sense of legitimacy to whoever is recruited,” said Blaine Stum, the legislative aide to former Councilman Jon Snyder who took Snyder’s seat on the committee.