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Monday, August 10, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Valley, county proclaim appreciation for law enforcement, activists call it tone deaf

UPDATED: Wed., July 1, 2020

Spokane Valley and Spokane County both proclaimed their appreciation for law enforcement this week, with Spokane County Commissioners approving a resolution Monday and Spokane Valley offering a similar sentiment Tuesday.

Activists, who tried to comment on Spokane Valley’s resolutions but were unable to because of City Council meeting rules, called the two governments’ move tone deaf.

Both Spokane County and Spokane Valley are policed by the sheriff’s department. Spokane Valley has a contract with the county, which provides sheriff’s deputies and a chief to staff the Spokane Valley Police Department.

In Spokane Valley’s proclamation, the city noted the department’s accreditation with the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, highlighted their work and noted council members’ appreciation.

“We believe law enforcement is essential to maintaining our freedom, and we firmly support our officers who put their lives at risk every day to serve and protect our citizens,” the proclamation read.

The county’s resolution was similar, stating that “the Board of County Commissioners recognizes the delivery of effective and professional law enforcement services depends on the dedication, professionalism, and personal sacrifice of the members of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and law enforcement personnel in Spokane County.”

The county’s resolution was forwarded to commissioners by the sheriff’s office, while Spokane Valley’s was suggested by council member Rod Higgins and supported by other council members.

Spokane County’s resolution did not appear on an agenda before commissioners voted on it. In addition, the commission does not offer public comment during its meetings, except for public hearings on specific projects. Spokane Valley City Council does allow general public comment but only at formal meetings, which are twice a month, and never on proclamations.

Carmen Pacheco-Jones, an activist and member of the county’s Law and Justice Council and Racial Equity Committee, said proclamations and resolutions like Spokane Valley’s and Spokane County’s cast a good light on law enforcement without acknowledging or discussing the suffering and acts of violence many people of color have experienced at the hands of law enforcement, or the recent conversation the entire community has had around policing.

“Read the room,” she said. “Right now there’s a national and local movement to amplify the voices and the issues of inequities with policing and communities of color.”

She called the resolution and proclamation tone deaf, and she said local leaders should be having uncomfortable conversations about race and policing.

“We need to address this, and we can’t address it by denying it and saying, ‘You’re the good old boys, we love you, support you and respect you,’” she said. “We have to say, ‘you are immersed in this white supremacist culture, there is dismantling and anti-racism that needs to happen.’”

Pacheco-Jones said she and about 20 others planned to attend Spokane Valley’s meeting virtually and use public comment to bring up their concerns but were unable to do so due to City Council rules. Instead, they attended the meeting via the Zoom but did not speak.

Spokane Valley Mayor Ben Wick said the city has worked over the years to make its police department the best that it can be, setting aside funding to make sure Spokane Valley had a mental health crisis response team that includes a mental health expert and changing deputy scheduling so they could use the “power shift,” which prioritizes having officers on the street when they are most needed. He also noted that the city spends more than half of its resources on public safety.

“We’re definitely not trying to be tone deaf,” he said. “We’re listening to what’s going on, there’s always two sides. In our community, we appreciate what law enforcement does to help keep people safe. Around the nation, it’s been very sad to see what’s happened, and my heart does go out to those who have been impacted negatively.”

During the meeting, he also invited those who wished to comment to contact him directly and discuss any concerns they have.

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