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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Spokane Police Department – a report card

Jim McDevitt

Over the past four months I had the opportunity to lead the Spokane Police Department. I came away from this experience amazed, impressed and humbled. Amazed at the quality of the people within SPD, impressed by the crime reduction and outreach efforts, and humbled by the true dedication to public service found within all ranks.

What follows is my “report card” to the city and its leaders based upon this experience. I write this not as a city employee but as a private citizen with several years of law enforcement experience and four months as SPD’s law enforcement director.

In the area of crime reduction, SPD is engaged in many innovative and effective strategies, including Comp Stat and “hot spot” policing. These efforts put the officers on the street in the areas of current and projected criminal activity. SPD hosts crime control strategy meetings with other agencies and continues to build upon effective partnerships with all federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

SPD’s Community Outreach Strategy is second to none. This program is designed with several goals, such as building partnerships and understanding with various community groups and working with “at risk” youth to foster trust between youth and the police, as well as helping our young adults make good decisions and stay in school.

The best examples of these programs are Youth Police Initiative and Police Activities League. Other outreach programs include the Police Advisory Committee, the Spokane Faith Leaders-Police Community Alliance, the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Multicultural Affairs and the Citizens Academy.

Close relationships with mental health providers are also maintained. This is important due to the high number of individuals experiencing some form of crisis event which necessitates law enforcement response. SPD’s partnerships with mental health providers have resulted in Critical Incident Team training for all SPD officers as well as the creation of an Enhanced CIT training curriculum.

Over the last few years SPD has successfully completed many reform initiatives, some from the local Use of Force Commission, including achievement of state accreditation and provision of body-worn cameras for patrol officers. SPD is currently undergoing collaborative reform in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice COPS Office, resulting in various reform measures such as the enhancement of policies and training related to use of force. The COPS Office has held out SPD as an example for other jurisdictions to follow.

A planned culture audit should be underway this fall.

Spokane is currently in the final stages of a nationwide search for a police chief. Based upon my own experience gained over the past four months, I would suggest several challenges that the new police chief may face.

First, it is my view that Spokane is short by 30 to 40 police officers, as well as civilians for records, crime analysis and dispatch. The current ratio in Spokane is 1.47 officers per thousand population. Tacoma, even after a layoff, is at 1.6, and Seattle is budgeted at 2.2 per thousand. These numbers are only a guide and each city has its own unique needs.

I can say, however, that with the high level of community outreach and rising property crime rates, Spokane needs more “boots on the ground.”

The second major challenge is in the area of facilities. SPD currently pays over $496,000 for its two main facilities – the Spokane County Public Safety Building and the Gardner Building. In my view, the space in the Public Safety Building is C-, at best. SPD needs its own facility with ample space for all functions under one roof and secure parking for its employees. SPD and community input on this and any other major facility project is essential.

The third area of importance to a new chief of police is leadership and control. A true law enforcement leader must be able to lead, set the example, motivate and instill pride in the entire force. He/she must be able to do that with a minimum of interference from City Hall.

I found that, due to the turmoil experienced over the past year, City Hall became used to contacting line officers directly, listening to or soliciting rumors without the knowledge of leadership, and generally attempting to run the Police Department. In my experience, this is corrosive to the morale and efficiency of any organization.

My bottom line is this: SPD is an outstanding organization, staffed with true professionals who are dedicated to the safety of our community. The new chief will not be disappointed.

A former U.S. attorney, Jim McDevitt was named by Spokane Mayor David Condon to serve as temporary law enforcement director while the city searched for a new police chief.

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