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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich files complaint against Washington State over rejection of training proposal

During a news conference at the Public Safety Building on Tuesday, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich discusses using the Medical Reserve Corps of Eastern Washington as a preparatory step by Spokane County Emergency Management with local health care and public health partners to strengthen the list of available volunteers to meet any future needs of the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.  (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich has filed a complaint against a state commission for rejecting his proposal to run a new law enforcement training academy.

The proposal would have broken with the state’s centralized training policy for all peace officers.

After about two years of research, writing curriculum and meeting with staff of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, the sheriff’s office in September presented its plan to the commission, which unanimously rejected the proposal amid concerns that allowing agencies to train their own officers would fundamentally change the training model in Washington State.

The sheriff’s office then filed a request to the commission for an adjudicative proceeding to review the decision. That was rejected in mid-December.

Now Knezovich, represented by the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office, is asking a Spokane County Superior Court judge to review the commission’s decision to not complete and adjudicative process.

In the court documents, Knezovich says he and his staff worked with the commission for two years to develop the proposed program in a way that met required training standards and responded to concerns from commission staff. He said the sheriff’s office lost about $250,000 – mostly in overtime pay for would-be instructors – when the commission rejected his proposal.

To put the program together, Knezovich directed the instructors to model the new academy for a commission audit. The commission never audited the course.

“We took these steps with an agreement with (commission) that they would help us and they would help us get our program audited and in a position where we could do a trial period,” Knezovich said this week.

With the amount of help that the office received from commission staff, Knezovich said he was under the impression that the program would be approved.

Commission Director Sue Rahr said no matter how much help the sheriff’s office received from commission staff, it was made clear to Knezovich that the final decision was up to the commissioners.

“I believe they were fully aware and they were told many times it would be the commission’s decision whether or not to allow this,” Rahr said.

Knezovich planned to use the commission’s shortened training regimen for officers hired from out of state to certify his recruits.

“The fact is the purpose of considering reciprocity is to facilitate getting a fully trained, experienced officer from out of state,” Rahr said. “It was never intended to be used to circumvent the legislative intent for consistent training across the state for new officers. That concept has been made clear repeatedly over the years.”

Jeff Myers, chair of the commission and the police chief of Hoquiam, said he has expressed concerns about the proposed program to Knezovich multiple times over the last few years.

“I’ve been aware of Spokane County’s efforts to create their own county model for many years,” Myers said. “In fact, I met with them personally and shared my concerns on what that would mean for police training in Washington state as a whole.”

Myers said he was less concerned with the content of Knezovich’s proposed training program and more worried about how it could change the face of law enforcement training in Washington, especially “at a time when we should be continuing with a strong centralized form of training.”

“Speaking as an appointed commissioner, the role and responsibility for police training in Washington State has been given to the Criminal Justice Training Commission,” he said. “I am representing 7 million residents in the state of Washington. That’s why the commissioners look at the overarching policy implications.”

Knezovich called fears that his proposal would decentralize training a “red herring” because the program uses modified commission curriculum and instructors certified through the commission.

If Knezovich’s complaint seeking further commission review is declined by the judge, he is prepared to file a lawsuit.