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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane police chief finalists down to three men

By Nina Culver and Jonathan Brunt The Spokesman-Review

Three men, including two high-ranking officers in Washington, were named Thursday as finalists to be the next Spokane police chief.

They are:

    James Dermody, who has been a captain in the Seattle Police Department since 2009, leading precincts, the narcotics portion of investigations and the department’s use of data in crime enforcement.

    Robert Lehner, the police chief of Elk Grove, California, and former police chief of Eugene, Oregon.

    Dominic Rizzi Jr., the Yakima police chief since 2012, also served in the Chicago Police Department for more than 25 years.

The candidates will be interviewed Wednesday in Spokane by panels selected by Mayor David Condon. A public reception with the candidates will be held at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in the West Central Community Center. The public will be able to submit questions to the finalists, none of whom could be reached for comment on Thursday.

All the finalists have college degrees, as recommended by a panel named by Condon to guide the hiring process.

They were chosen from 31 applicants.

City Council President Ben Stuckart said the inclusion of two Washington residents as finalists indicates that the department’s reputation may be improving. When the city searched for a new chief in 2012, no one in Washington even applied.

“They’re seeing change happen within our department,” Stuckart said.

More on the candidates:

James Dermody

Dermody, a second-generation Seattle Police Department Officer, began a new position this month heading up the department’s Force Investigation Team, which investigates all officer-involved shootings and other use-of-force incidents. When he applied for the police chief job, Dermody was the intelligence and tactical analysis section commander.

He was one of six people on a firearms review board that determined Officer Ian Birk was unjustified when he fatally shot woodcarver John T. Williams in 2010. The board unanimously recommended that Birk be fired and investigated for excessive force.

Dermody is best known for leading Seattle’s West Precinct from 2012 to 2014 and the East Precinct from 2009 to 2012. He’s been with the Seattle Police Department for 26 years.

Robert Lehner

Lehner spent the first 25 years of his law enforcement career with the Tucson (Arizona) Police Department and reached the rank of assistant police chief. He arrived in Eugune, Oregon, as police chief in 2004 to lead a department that had been led by an interim chief for two years. Before he arrived, two police officers had been indicted on charges of sexually assaulting women.

He left Eugene for Elk Grove in 2008 to take over a police department that was only 2 years old. When he was a finalist for the Seattle police chief position in 2014, the Seattle Times called Lehner a “fixer of police departments in turmoil.”

He was also a police chief finalist in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 2015.

Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis said Lehner is respected by the community, local leaders and rank-and-file officers.

“He’s helped our city become a city that, although large in population, is one of the safest cities in California,” Davis said. “He’s done a phenomenal job for the city of Elk Grove.”

Davis said Lehner has created a department responsive to residents and that he’s emphasized community policing.

Dominic Rizzi Jr.

Earlier this year, Rizzi publicly disagreed with the Yakima City Council’s proposal to reverse the city’s ban on retail marijuana sales.

Yakima Councilwoman Kathy Coffey supported allowing retail marijuana sales, but said she didn’t believe Rizzi acted inappropriately by taking a public position that contradicted the council’s direction.

“He’s done an excellent job here in Yakima,” Coffey said.

Yakima City Councilwoman Holly Cousens also praised Rizzi’s work leading the department.

“He’s wonderful, and we’re sad to see that he is a finalist over there because we love him over here,” Cousens said.

Last year, Rizzi clashed with then-Yakima City Manager Tony O’Rourke over police discipline, according to the Yakima Herald newspaper. Rizzi recommended firing an officer accused of having sex with a prostitute. O’Rourke, however, argued that Rizzi’s decision was unfair compared to other discipline. He noted that an officer in the department’s Gang Unit accused of having sex with a paid informant and wife of an imprisoned gang member only received a suspension and reassignment.

Rizzi stood by his discipline decisions, but agreed with O’Rourke to work with the police union to create new disciplinary procedures.

High turnover

Spokane’s next chief will be the seventh person to lead the department in the past five years.

Turnover has been so brisk that when the last leader of the department left at the start of this month, Condon didn’t even name a new leader, leaving Assistant Chief Craig Meidl in charge.

Since Chief Anne Kirkpatrick finished her five-year tenure at the end of 2011, the leaders of the department have been:

    Interim Chief Scott Stephens, January - September 2012.

    Chief Frank Straub, September 2012 - September 2015.

    Interim Chief Rick Dobrow, September 2015 - March 2016.

    Interim Law Enforcement Director Jim McDevitt, March 2016 - June 2016.

    Assistant Chief Craig Meidl, July 2016-present.

The new chief replaces Straub, who was forced to resign by Condon last year after several high-ranking officers questioned his leadership style. Condon’s controversial handling of Straub’s removal sparked lawsuits and a decision by city leaders to investigate. A report detailing Straub’s ouster by the investigator hired by the city, Kris Cappel, is expected to be ready July 27, Coddington said.

City spokesman Brian Coddington said Condon is expected to make his final selection a few days after the interviews. His pick must be approved by the City Council.