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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Police union endorses Woodward as candidates spar on approach to public safety

Spokane police are shown on the scene of an April shooting. The union representing officers, the Spokane Police Guild, has endorsed Nadine Woodward for mayor in the upcoming primary. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

As public safety continues to dominate discourse, the Spokane Police Guild has endorsed Nadine Woodward for mayor in the primary election.

A centerpiece of Woodward’s campaign has been a call to bring a police precinct back to the heart of downtown, and she also has pledged to go on regularly scheduled ride-alongs with officers if elected.

Woodward called the endorsement “very significant” for her campaign.

“Our men and women in blue, I want them to know that they have an advocate in the mayor’s office when I’m elected and that I will be listening to them,” Woodward said. “I don’t think that’s something Ben Stuckart can or is willing to do.”

Stuckart, a two-term City Council president and one of the other four candidates vying for mayor, does not view the police guild’s endorsement of Woodward as a detriment to his campaign.

“I’ve never asked for their endorsement and I never will,” he said.

Stuckart and Woodward, a former television news anchor, have emerged as the two most prominent mayoral candidates in the primary election, at least in terms of campaign fundraising and spending. The other candidates are Jonathan Bingle, Kelly Cruz and Shawn Poole.

In 2015, Mayor David Condon’s administration moved the downtown police precinct from a storefront near the Spokane Transit Authority headquarters to the city-owned Intermodal Center on West First Avenue.

Though downtown policing has arisen as an issue throughout the campaign, downtown crime has dropped this year.

According to the most recent data, there were 102 violent crimes reported downtown through mid-July, compared with 141 at the same point in 2018. Property crime has dropped from 712 incidents in 2018 to 596 thus far in 2019.

The guild – which represents Spokane police sergeants, corporals, detectives and officers – considered all five candidates for mayor in what it views as a “very important election,” according to Tim Schwering, vice president of the guild.

Woodward’s priority for a downtown precinct went a long way with the guild.

“The precinct, moving that down to the core of downtown, we are very much in favor of. We live and work here, we love the downtown, and what we’ve heard from certainly the business owners to have more of a visible presence downtown,” Schwering said.

Woodward did not support the public safety levy, a $5.8 million-a-year tax approved by voters earlier this year that will fund the addition of 20 officers to the Spokane Police Department.

“I support public safety, but not the way it was funded,” Woodward said.

Woodward believes the roughly $5 million is a “drop in the bucket” of the city’s overall budget, and she disagreed with “asking the taxpayers to increase taxes on themselves as an absolutely last resort.” Her approach to adding officers to the department would have been to find funding within the city’s current budget, she said.

The levy, sponsored by Stuckart, was approved by nearly two-thirds of voters.

Thanks to the levy, five new officers are heading to the police academy and are expected to join the downtown precinct in 2020. There are currently 10 officers stationed downtown, according to Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl.

Put simply, Stuckart said, “without the public safety levy there would be no 20 officers” once the tax begins being collected in January.

“This is my eighth city budget and I do understand it very well. I can guarantee you there was not an excess of $5 million,” Stuckart said.

The next mayor also will have to navigate the Office of Police Ombudsman, a position meant to hold police accountable and promote public trust in the police department.

“The one issue I have with the ombudsman situation as it stands now, I think the disciplinary measures need to come from the police chief,” Woodward said. “I wish we didn’t have to have an ombudsman situation, to be honest with you. I want to be able to believe that the police chief can do his job and weed out any bad apples if there are any.”

Schwering said the ombudsman “always comes up in discussion” about whom to endorse, but said for the guild, “public safety is our No. 1 concern, obviously.”

“We have agreed to oversight, we think that’s good, we think that builds public trust,” Schwering said. “We are not opposed to oversight.”

If elected, Stuckart said he would look to strengthen the ombudsman’s office.

The police guild has been at odds with Ombudsman Bart Logue in the investigation of a February incident in which police allegedly threatened to kill a suspect and hoisted a police dog into a car to attack the man.

Body camera footage of the incident exists, but members of the City Council were not permitted to review it by the city administration unless they signed a nondisclosure agreement beforehand. Stuckart and other members of the council declined to sign the agreement.

“That’s the one association I don’t ask for their endorsement,” Stuckart said. “As mayor, your job is to follow through on police accountability issues and the guild fights that on every step of the way.”

As mayor, Woodward said she would work to facilitate a great relationship between the community and police department.

“I think our residents want our officers out there doing their job,” Woodward said. “They will have a mayor who will support them and direct them to enforce the law.”

As mayor, Woodward said she would make a habit of tagging along with officers on the job. During a ride-along with police earlier this month, Woodward said she saw officers handle a number of incidents, including a man threatening to jump off the Monroe Street Bridge, a well-being check on an addict, and more.

“The officer I was with and the officers at the scene, I just couldn’t believe how incredibly well they handled each situation with a very measured and compassionate response,” Woodward said. “I couldn’t be more proud of what I got to see out on the street.”