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Spokane police lack training to enforce noise ordinance at Planned Parenthood protest

UPDATED: Tue., May 19, 2020

Christine Stickelmeyer raises her hand during a devotional song sung by her son, Gabe Blomgren, during a protest rally and church service led by The Church at Planned Parenthood on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, at Planned Parenthood's offices at 123 East Indiana in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Christine Stickelmeyer raises her hand during a devotional song sung by her son, Gabe Blomgren, during a protest rally and church service led by The Church at Planned Parenthood on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, at Planned Parenthood's offices at 123 East Indiana in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

After two months of low turnout amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the crowd of protesters singing Christian songs outside Planned Parenthood in north Spokane rebounded to 130-plus strong on Tuesday evening.

But when the Church at Planned Parenthood – which has previously protested with more than 200 people – began to sing at 6 p.m., Spokane police officers had no way to enforce the noise ordinance that City Council passed in March.

A Rutgers University training program that would have taught two Spokane officers how to use technology for measuring sound levels was canceled due to the pandemic, according to Capt. Dave Singley.

Singley said the program is the only one of its kind in the nation, and its instructor could come to Spokane for a training with other regional law enforcement agencies when public health measures allow for it.

About a dozen Spokane police officers stood by on Tuesday, ready to keep the peace while a few counterprotesters from the Facebook group Stronger Together Spokane stood across the street holding signs.

Tom Robinson and Kim Schmidt, the group’s organizers, said they were the only two counterprotesting at Planned Parenthood in March and April, but told others they could come on Tuesday if they practiced social distancing and wore masks.

“It is a big contradiction in a lot of ways for us to be here,” said Schmidt, who posted on the Facebook group about the counterprotest remaining quiet so Spokane police could enforce the noise ordinance.

Schmidt said she measured the protest to noise on her own meter, which she said police officers examined.

Robinson set up a clothesline to hold up signs where more counterprotesters would normally be standing.

Across the street, just two people among the Planned Parenthood protesters wore masks; one mask had lettering that said “Inslee for prison.” Most people stood closely together.

Schmidt said about 15 people gathered to protest Planned Parenthood last month.

“What a great crowd for coronavirus,” Church at Planned Parenthood organizer Ken Peters told the protesters, making light of statewide restrictions on large gatherings that are designed to slow the deadly virus’s spread. “Y’all are illegal.”

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