One after another, Spokane City Council members pleaded with police Chief Craig Meidl on Monday to publicly condemn his officers’ comments about the attractiveness of women at protests outside Planned Parenthood.
Instead, Meidl sought to provide context to officer Scott Hice’s joke, which was captured on body camera footage at a gathering of the Church at Planned Parenthood last August but surfaced last month following a public records request. The group regularly demonstrates outside the Indiana Avenue facility.
As he arrived at the protests on Indiana on Aug. 21, Hice’s body camera picked up his conversation with another officer.
“Usually the better looking girls are on the other side,” Hice said.
“Church girls?” the other person asked.
“Yeah, church girls are a little cleaner, at least,” Hice said.
Meidl addressed Hice’s comments at a Public Safety and Community Health Committee meeting on Monday.
Hice was responding to a sergeant’s question regarding which side of the protest he wanted to be stationed on. The counterprotesters included men who were wearing pink “pussyhats,” “yelling and screaming ‘keep your hands off my vagina,’ ” Meidl said.
“He tells the sergeant ‘I’ll go to the other side, the women over there are more proper’ or something along those lines. … It wasn’t directed toward females, per se; it was an effort to know that we’re about to go into four hours of very intense, disrespectful yelling and screaming,” Meidl said.
Meidl referred to the pink hats which were worn by thousands of protesters at the 2017 Women’s March following the election of President Donald Trump, as “vagina hats.” He said he did not know what they were until he researched them online.
Councilwoman Kate Burke called Meidl’s characterization of the events offensive, and accused Meidl of providing context only to make council members feel it wasn’t as significant an issue.
“The fact that this is being chalked up as locker room talk and jokes is in and of itself a problem,” Burke said.
She said the officers were “objectifying women, on duty, by making those comments. It doesn’t matter if they’re making fun of the men, they’re now saying the only reason they’re going to go to the other side is because there are women over there.”
Meidl saidthe video posted to YouTube was edited down from several hours of body camera footage at the protest.
“Levity can be taken out of context,” Meidl said.
The video was released as the Spokane City Council considered legislation, introduced by Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, that would establish protections for health clinics under city law.
After watching the video, Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson wondered about “the sensitivity of our officers” and how it’s being encouraged through department leadership.
“The community is waiting to hear from the top how these issues are being addressed, in context or out of context,” Wilkerson said.
The chief also noted the contentious nature of the protests and their strain on officers.
“You have one group that says ‘you guys are not enforcing the law,’ ” while another will ‘yell at them that they’re allowing babies to be murdered, they have blood on their hands,’ ” Meidl said.
The department’s primary response to Hice’s comments, which drew condemnation from Planned Parenthood representatives and supporters, has been to remind officers they are being recorded. Hice was not disciplined, as his action did not violate department policy, according to Meidl.
When complaints are raised with the department, Council President Breean Beggs said its leadership often looks at the issues through a disciplinary lens. The rules are what they are, but Beggs asked, “What is the example we’re getting to set?”
“I want to hear you say ‘No, that’s inappropriate,’ ” Beggs said.
Councilwoman Candace Mumm took what she characterized as a supportive stance, telling Meidl “the opportunity still exists” to make a statement and educate officers.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.