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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Culture audit: Spokane Police say they need more officers, stable leadership

FILE - Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl listens to Mayor David Condon announce Meidl’s new appointment in August 2016. An audit of the Police Department’s culture indicated many officers say  the agency needs dependable, long-term leadership to be successful. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane police personnel who participated in a culture audit of the department said more officers, more permanent leadership and a public more understanding of the pressures of the job would lead to improved performance and morale.

The 94-page report, released Thursday by the city ahead of a planned news conference Friday to address the findings, fulfills a recommendation of the Justice Department’s report on the Spokane Police Department concluded in December 2014. The audit ends not with recommendations for the department to reach those outcomes, but questions that still need to be answered, including how and whether to diversify the agency’s leadership and how officers can more effectively communicate with members of the public.

“The Research Team does not think it appropriate to make recommendations to the SPD, based on gathering data for such a short time, and the fact that we are not members of the profession of law enforcement,” wrote JoAnn Danelo Barbour, a professor of leadership studies at Gonzaga University and the report’s primary investigator and author.

The report was based on interviews with 100 members of the department, anonymous surveys collected over the course of two weeks and the research team’s observations of police procedures over six weeks last fall.

Officers, who are quoted in the report but not named, lamented the amount of patrol staff employed by the department, which keeps investigators from following up on crimes the community wants solved.

“I truly think they need to seek more financial support for an agency of our size from City Council. City Council needs to realize we’re the second largest city, and they’re working us to death,” said one officer according to the report, referring to Spokane’s relative size in Washington.

“As a whole, the Department does a terrible job with property crimes,” wrote one respondent to the online survey.

The report notes the department employs 307 commissioned officers, 282 of which identify as white. Of those officers, 29 are women.

Several participants said it seemed that women were passed up for leadership roles in the department, even though they perform similar work to their male counterparts.

“I just feel like most of the women, they probably won’t tell you, but they feel it’s like you have to prove yourself ten-fold,” said one respondent, who is not identified by gender in the report.

The audit lists the history of chiefs heading the police department, ending with Chief Craig Meidl’s unorthodox appointment in August and confirmation after a subsequent round of interviews.

“Many participants mentioned the need for leadership to provide stability to the SPD, important since the work of law enforcement is by nature variable, complex and unpredictable,” Barbour wrote.

The audit also includes several comments from officers who felt that the community did not appreciate the difficulty of the job or the work performed by the department, whether because of media reports or a general distrust of law enforcement dating to the 2006 death of Otto Zehm at the hands of former Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson.

“Several officers and civilian workers believe that Zehm’s legacy is still a part of the Spokane community’s distrust of the SPD,” Barbour wrote.

Barbour, Meidl and Mayor David Condon are scheduled to address the findings of the audit at a news conference Friday.