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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Women of the Year: Meidl found her calling in policing

Tracie Meidl, a Spokane police captain and highest-ranking female within the department, has been named one of our women of the year. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

It started in high school with a career aptitude test.

Some 30 years later, Tracie Meidl is the highest-ranking woman in the Spokane Police Department, overseeing the department’s southside service area as a precinct captain.

Though she had no family in law enforcement and no inclination to join the profession, Meidl was invited to an open house following the career aptitude test and quickly signed on to the Boy Scouts of America’s Law Enforcement Exploring program, which she participated in for three years.

“Everything I learned, I just loved,” Meidl said.

After high school in Spokane, Meidl went to Eastern Washington University to study business. But it wasn’t long before law enforcement pulled her back in. In 1992, she became a reserve officer with the Spokane Police Department and was hired to attend the police academy in 1993.

Nearly 25 years later, Meidl was appointed in 2017 to her current position; the region she oversees includes the South Hill, East Central neighborhood and portions of the Latah/Hangman area.

She is married to Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl, so a committee of other department leaders interviewed her and appointed her to the position to avoid a conflict of interest.

Ask her husband, and he’ll say that it’s Tracie who should be chief of police.

“As soon as she’s done with that incident or call, she’s on to the next one,” Craig Meidl said. “It’s really unlike anything I’ve ever seen, her ability to maintain that equilibrium.”

When Tradcie Meidl joined the force, it was about 10 percent female, a number that hasn’t budged much in the decades since. A 2017 cultural audit of the department found that of the 307 commissioned employees, 29 were women.

But at the time, Meidl didn’t think much of being a woman in a male-dominated field, and never felt like she wasn’t part of the team on patrol.

“It’s almost more in reflection that I think that. You just consider yourself part of the team and you don’t think you stand out at all,” she said.

She credited “women ahead of me that really paved the way,” including Terri Boardman and Judi Carl, “who were among the the first female officers who carved a path for other women.”

Carl, who retired as a captain in 2015 and once supervised Meidl, said Meidl “walks the walk.”

“She’s not ego-driven, and she has a passion for the job, a commitment to the city and a desire for things to always improve no matter what she’s involved in,” Carl said. “And I think that heart is truly critical in any police officer.”

Meidl has noticed the gender difference more at the administrative level than before, she added.

“I think women do have to work harder to be recognized at times. Not always, and there are people who treat you just the same as they would a male. It’s obviously not an always or never,” Meidl said.

A 2005 study, “Women Police: The Use of Force by and Against Female Officers,” found that female police officers are less likely to use force against a subject than their male counterparts, even though they are just as likely to be met with force.

“A lot of times, what it takes for law enforcement to not use force is they have to communicate very well, be very verbally tactical, de-escalate, and instead of fighting your way into handcuffs, talking your way into handcuffs. I know that’s helped me,” Meidl said.

It was early on in her career that Meidl developed an affinity for proactive, community-oriented policing that she remains recognized for, even as she’s ascended the ladder to captain. Though she’s no longer directly tasked with community policing, that approach is still baked into the way she goes about her work as a police captain.

“I have maintained and tried to increase my community engagement at all levels, just because you can’t reduce crime in the community without having the community on your side,” Meidl said.

It’s a philosophy demonstrated earlier this year when the city held a community meeting to discuss a proposed emergency homeless shelter at the former Grocery Outlet store on East Sprague Avenue. It was Meidl who joined city staff on the stage to hear and answer concerns about the project from neighborhood residents.

Her ability to handle a stressful call or event and quickly move on to the next task is noted by her peers.

“It’s not uncommon, people will be defiant or resistant, (but) she’s always able to be very calm and she does not allow that to be absorbed into her,” Craig Meidl said.

As a dog lover, Meidl jumped at the opportunity to join the department’s K-9 Unit in 1997, which she stayed on until 2005. It forced her to work not only with the patrol unit, but collaborate with other agencies and organizations throughout the city – even the U.S. Postal Service.

“You get to be a little more proactive and impactful in a different way, and that’s taking drugs off the street,” Meidl said.

Meidl joined the department’s Patrol Anti-Crime Team as a sergeant in 2011, overseeing a team of officers responsible not for responding to calls for service but for tracking down people who had violated their probation or had warrants for their arrest.

“You can truly make an impact when you’re not just reacting to calls, you are hopefully, in theory, preventing calls from happening just by focusing on some of the worst of the worst of our criminals,” Meidl said.

She was promoted to lieutenant in charge of community, youth and intervention services, and helped launch the department’s chronic offender program, which identifies those who regularly commit property crimes and works to offer them resources.

It was born out of “trying to take a different approach, because we recognize we cannot arrest our way out of the problem,” Meidl said.

Spokane police are “ trying to find a root cause and be able to flood these chronic offenders with resources, something that has never been done. But also hold them accountable,” Meidl said.

Under her leadership, the department also expanded its Police Activities League from a single city park to three, engaging youth and working to build bridges because “everybody recognizes that we have more in common than we have differences,” Meidl said.