The Spokane City Council and Mayor Nadine Woodward pledged Thursday to embark on a community-centered conversation on police reform.
The announcement did not include any specific reform proposals, but the two branches of city government announced the framework for an upcoming dialogue among police department leaders, elected officials and reform advocates.
A list of 24 tenets includes commitments that the discussion will be inclusive and held through a lens that prioritizes equity. The reforms will be based on data, focus on effectiveness and have clearly defined outcomes.
Though it lacked substantive or legislative change, Thursday’s announcement was meant to signal to the thousands of people reaching out to elected leaders that elected officials have been working on the issue, according to Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs.
“This is setting the context for the conversation,” Beggs said.
Mayor Nadine Woodward said the dialogue requires “significant care and consideration,” and the tenets laid out will help it “result in meaningful advancement for our community.”
“You have to invest that time (in) listening, and even learning, before you start taking actionable steps,” Woodward said.
Like so many other cities throughout the country, Spokane saw protests against police brutality and racial injustice in response to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Thousands of people marched in downtown Spokane on May 31, in an evening that ended with clashes between police and protesters. Smaller demonstrations have been held throughout the city since.
If Thursday’s announcement is any indication, police reform in Spokane will be a marathon, not a sprint.
City leaders will look to reconcile reform proposals issued separately in June by Woodward and Beggs – and consider reforms proposed by members of the community.
A list of reforms both sides already agree on is expected to be released in the coming weeks and implemented shortly after, officials said. What remains will require a deeper, more inclusive debate.
Beggs’ June proposal was longer and more wide-ranging than Woodward’s. It included requirements that police report excessive force by fellow officers, limits on how police use force on protesters and mandates for faster disclosure of body camera footage.
Although he declined to specify which proposals require further negotiation, Beggs said he expects changes to police use of force will be thorny. In June, Beggs proposed limiting neck restraints and canine bites to life-threatening situations, recategorizing them as uses of deadly force.
Neither Woodward nor Beggs has advocated defunding the police department, a push central to recent reform efforts in some cities, including Seattle.
The conversation demands urgency, Beggs said, particularly for those who have “suffered under a system that doesn’t work well for them for too long.” The mayor’s office and police leadership share in that urgency, he said.
The community has been right to insist on change, Beggs said.
“It’s no longer enough to not be contributing to the problem, it’s important to be anti-racist and anti-biased and move things forward systemically,” Beggs said.
Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, who chairs the council’s Public Safety and Community Health Committee, said police reforms will have the most impact on communities of color.
“It’s vital we bring the thoughts and concerns of these communities to the forefront to shape safe and nonbiased criminal justice reform,” Kinnear said.
Unlike her blindfolded depiction, Lady Justice is not, in fact, blind, she said.
“Many times, Lady Justice lowers her blindfold to see who’s standing in front of her,” she said.
Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl said the department has a “strong history of continuous learning.”
“We’re committed to improving our ability to serve the community as a national policing model,” Meidl said.
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