The Spokane Police Department received a new, but possibly temporary, command structure this month as it waits for the selection of new police chief.
Among the last acts by interim Law Enforcement Director Jim McDevitt was to recommend elevating four officers to temporary positions he said were needed to “level out the workload.”
“It’s an organization I felt would work, after I worked through the issues,” McDevitt said Friday. “The new chief can have the freedom to rearrange the department any way he sees fit.”
City officials said the moves are not true promotions, but temporary moves in which four ranking officers are being paid “outside their pay grade” under the terms of union contracts with the city.
Eric Olsen, a captain overseeing investigations, was moved temporarily to the job of director of investigations, where he receives the pay of a major. Kevin King, a lieutenant at the police academy, was moved temporarily to the job of director of patrol, also at the pay of major.
If the new chief decides to keep those positions, they would come under the city’s civil service rules. Olsen and King could apply for them through the civil service process, which involves passing a test that is designed for the position and being placed on a list from which the new chief can choose. Applicants who pass the test are placed on the list in order of their scores, and the fact that they temporarily held the job would not give them a higher spot on the list, said Gita George-Hatcher, chief examiner for the city Civil Service Commission.
The new chief can select anyone on the list, but must consider everyone who has a higher score than the person selected, she said.
Tracie Meidl, a lieutenant in community outreach, was temporarily named to Olsen’s previous job and is receiving the out-of-grade pay of a captain. Dave Staben, a sergeant in internal investigations, was temporarily moved to a lieutenant slot with comparable out-of-grade pay. Those aren’t civil service positions, but the new chief will have the authority to name different people to them if he chooses, and Meidl and Staben would go back to jobs at their old pay grade.
All of those staffing decisions would be at the discretion of the new chief after conversations with Mayor David Condon, city spokesman Brian Coddington said.
Assistant Police Chief Craig Meidl, who as of this month is leading the department, said the department had too many vacancies in leadership positions. Craig Meidl and Tracie Meidl are married.
In recent years, the police department often has been run by a chief and two assistant chiefs. But after the June 30 departure of McDevitt, the department is without a chief and only has one assistant chief.
Condon has not named Craig Meidl interim chief. Coddington said the period that the chief’s position would be open between McDevitt’s departure and the selection of a new chief was so short the mayor decided not to have an interim chief and keep Craig Meidl in the position of assistant chief.
Meidl said McDevitt made the recommendation for temporary changes on his last day, and Meidl announced the changes to his command staff Monday.
A new chief can reverse the changes, Meidl said, but he expects the new positions to remain, even if the people are changed. “It would be nice to have an operational structure in place,” he said.
Meidl said he told the people filling those jobs: “Don’t just think you could be rolled back. Expect to roll back.”
After Straub took over the department, city leaders reorganized the police department, creating eight departments within it, allowing for the hiring of directors and assistant directors for each one. Last month, however, the Spokane City Council eliminated half of those departments to comply with state law.
Meidl said he’s willing to remain as the assistant chief when a new chief arrives, but is fine working in other lower-ranked positions within the department. He said he trusts in God that he’ll be led to the position that’s right for him and the department. He also said he’s not offended that he hasn’t been named an “interim chief,” even though he’s the person now in charge of the department.
“The incoming chief has to be able to pick his right-hand person,” Meidl said. “I’m at peace with whatever position I’m led to.”
A new chief could be in place by mid-August. He will step into a working structure that he could keep or change based on experience with other departments, in a few months or a few days, McDevitt said.
The temporary changes were made after studying the department’s organization for three months and getting to know the personnel, McDevitt said. He also checked with City Hall about civil service and union contract considerations.
He believes the department has “good talent” but previous chiefs did not pay enough attention to developing the next round of department leaders.
Asked if any of the officers he selected for the temporary jobs participated in the salute members of the department gave to former Officer Karl Thompson after he was convicted in the death of Otto Zehm, McDevitt replied: “It didn’t matter to me.”
McDevitt said his office started the investigation and prosecution of Thompson, and while the salute to a convicted felon was despicable, it was not criminal. “It was stupid and everybody who did it knew it shortly afterward,” he said.
When he took temporary control of the department, McDevitt told officers he would look to the present, not the past.
“This department is a different department. Lessons were learned,” he said.
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