It was with a great deal of anticipation and optimism that I attended Wednesday’s gathering at the West Central Community Center to listen to the public questions hurled at the remaining two finalists for Spokane’s chief of police. I was underwhelmed.
The majority of the screened questions were softballs. For the most part, though, both men were articulate and their answers clear and concise. They also seem well-qualified and demonstrated good “chief-like” characteristics. Unfortunately, I heard little passion about the job they are seeking or for our city.
I was asked to provide questions to the interview committee and submitted the items listed below. Several salient issues interested me, such as constituent relations, mental health concerns and the finalists’ philosophy on community policing and dealing with bad behavior within the department. None of the questions below were specifically asked at the public meeting; I do not know if they were discussed at the closed-door interviews held earlier.
1. Long-term leadership stability at the SPD is not a phrase familiar to most residents of the area, Spokane City Hall or departmental rank and file. What are some of the first actions you think you need to take to reduce community and departmental apprehension?
2. According to the Supreme Court, gun ownership in America is protected by the Second Amendment. Should such protections be afforded all Americans to pack a gun at will other than convicted felons? Is this also not a major mental health issue?
3. According to one City Council member, the SPD is “fully staffed.” But, in order to meet the growing demands on the department, including acceleration in overtime and a potential large group of retirees over the next year, the staffing budget and workload to fill those essential vacancies could be seriously taxed. Where does budget management resonate in your leadership orchestration?
4. As the “chief of policing,” to whom do you believe you are first and foremost responsible?
5. Have your dealings with the police Guild and community at large been contentious or amicable? How might you have improved these relationships?
6. On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is it to you to placate the SPD Guild?
7. What are your plans for including your senior staff and departmental rank and file in developing policies and procedures and providing constructive avenues for input by the community?
8. Is the concept of a “paramilitary” police force a good thing for community policing, or is the jury still out?
9. Should there be a ban on the sale and manufacture of certain ammunition in America? And, what about banning large capacity clips (e.g., those over 10 rounds per clip)?
10. Are you satisfied with the advances made in research and development of protective gear for police and K-9 officers (e.g., non-armor-piercing vests; out-of-date body cameras)?
11. Do you expect to have a transition team help you put your stamp on this department? Do you plan to bring your own people into the SPD? Given the U.S. Justice Department findings and recent suggestions by the outgoing SPD administration, how long do you think your transition team might take?
12. Recent opinions have come to light that “guns are not the problem” in thwarting gun-related homicides, but rather it is the sociopathic avenues taken by a few marginalized individuals with gang ties or with mental health issues. One activity that is reported to be successful is to identify individuals who meet one of these criteria and devote resources to bringing them out of their destructive behavior and back into the mainstream of nonviolent actions. Will this kind of program be part of your policing toolbox?
13. SPD has a Police Advisory Committee made up of about 25 or so members who represent specific community groups. Its goal is to give feedback on constituent concerns. The effectiveness of this group has been spotty (Justice Department report) but improving. Do you support such an arrangement, and what type of give-and-take might help improve the effectiveness of community policing?
The most important next step in the selection of a new chief is the final vetting process. Presumably thorough background checks have already been done. However, seldom do high-ranking leadership positions receive a comprehensive vetting – one that might reveal certain character flaws that do not show up in resumes. So, it is imperative that City Hall get this one right this time. We don’t want, and can’t afford, more embarrassing whoppers.
Howard W. Braham has held career positions with the U.S. Commerce and Justice departments. He sits on the Spokane Police Advisory Committee and Spokane County Civil Service Commission. The opinions expressed are his own.
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