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

Mary Ann Murphy: Spokane should elect police chief

Mary Ann Murphy

I have resigned my volunteer position as chair of the mayor’s Police Leadership Advisory Committee (PLAC). I was appointed by Mayor David Condon on Oct. 28, 2016, the week before he won re-election.

At the time, I was well aware that the mayor sought political cover from community volunteers outside his political base. Nonetheless, we eight individuals took him at his word that he sought diverse points of view. He pledged to follow our recommendations.

Over these past four months, we heard and discussed the input of hundreds of citizens, peeling layers of the onion but still uncertain that we have reached the core. I am proud of our advisory results, which can be viewed at spokanecity.org (search “PLAC”).

At our second PLAC meeting, the consultant asked a difficult question: “Is it possible for the chief of police to tell the truth to the community?”

We found that some chiefs in Spokane have been able to achieve that independence, serving both the public and the administration. But not recently, and probably not anytime soon.

We found that neither the mayor nor his advisers are serious about Human Resources policies, a practice already costing dearly in taxpayer dollars and confidence. From what I have observed, the Police Department (and the Ombudsman’s Office ) are far from the most dysfunctional city departments in the Condon administration - not even close.

I have concluded that achieving public safety, our top priority, will require that the top law enforcement officer be elected by the community, not managed by the mayor. Pending such a city charter change, it appears to me that Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich’s leadership offer should be considered seriously. He has earned the trust and confidence of most citizens of our community.

Such a step toward consolidation of the city and county law enforcement resources will surely achieve some economies of scale. However, we would be missing the hard-fought-for independent Ombudsman Office, which surely must be maintained since the Spokane citizens voted for it

Another pathway is an elected police commissioner. Such concepts of independence and accountability appear in previous recommendations about Spokane’s justice system. They warrant continued citizen exploration and forthright consideration in City Hall.

Mary Ann Murphy, of Spokane, is a longtime advocate for children and a former director of Partners with Families and Children.

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