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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Anwar Peace: SPD continues to deceive public about reforms

BY Anwar Peace

As a 21-year “police accountability activist,” when I think I’ve heard it all on the topics of misconduct or unethical behaviors by police officers, the Spokane Police Department always finds a way to consistently raise the bar on my personal “WOW factor” that I have on these matters.

The Spokesman-Review reported about unconstitutional policing in an article on Nov. 12 (“Spokane police ride-alongs raise concerns when used as council endorsement tool,” Shawn Vestal), in which officers while on duty or on shift in their squad cars did ride-alongs with City Council candidates as a way of evaluating them for “election endorsements” by the Spokane Police Guild.

Civilian ride-alongs are supposed to be designed to allow a citizen to get a glimpse at some of the public safety issues the community is facing. In fact, I’ve gone on several ride-alongs with officers as well as with firefighters, and those experiences have helped shaped my knowledge as a community activist. These new developments about the Spokane Police Department’s Civilian Ride-Along Program will now have a chilling effect on the public trust of this program. Especially if people now know if they want to go on a ride-along officers will both be evaluating them during the ride on their views about police reform, as well their views will be evaluated in their public statements or social media – which is downright creepy for officers to be spying on the public in this way.

All this comes at the heels of another Shawn Vestal article: “How body-cam footage tarring a council member made its way to Fox News” (Nov. 7), in which officers leaked body-cam footage as an attempt to smear City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson’s good name by accusing her of “lacking enthusiasm” in helping police solve a murder near one of her properties. This situation has so much wrong with it, but let’s start off with the facts: The council member was not present in the unredacted footage, nor is she heard making any statements in the footage. So, the Fox News “police narrative” was only of officers’ perceptions of the council member and never mentioned that the council member did in fact help with their investigation.

The main reason officers leaked this video is because there are some officers who have the perceptions that this council member and other council members want to “defund the police,” as well as those officers’ “worst fears” of true community-based police reform. Recently, council member Kate Burke also went through a smear campaign when the Spokane Police Guild accused her of Facebook-bullying newly hired Officer Jared Keller, who in 2018 killed Iosia Faletogo as a Seattle police officer – as well as the other officer-involved shootings on his record. The Faletogo family also lives in Spokane and was horrified at the hiring of this officer here, and so it was completely appropriate for council member Burke to raise these issues. The Spokane Police Guild lost its complaint against the council member due to the fact it never consulted with the officer to see if he felt bullied by the council member. The reasoning behind the Spokane Police Guild complaint was to score political points for going after those they see as “anti-police.”

In fact, the issues of these kinds of “officer rumors” about the council “defunding the police” was raised to Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl by council member Candace Mumm at the Aug. 30 Public Safety Committee meeting. Council members had heard from the public that while officers were on 911 calls they were telling people that the hands of police are tied due to lawmakers and the City Council in “defunding the police” (a false narrative, because the council has increased their budget). And the police chief’s response was, “Law enforcement should be apolitical.” At that point, the county sheriff interjected himself in political ad campaigns against City Council candidates pushing for police reform.

Sadly, police leaders are also contributing with the public spreading of these “anti-police” rumors. After Mapping Police Violence released the proven fact that the “Spokane Police Department is the third-deadliest police force in the nation,” the police chief and the sheriff released videos saying those activists and community leaders who are now talking about those ranking numbers are somehow being misleading or lying to the public. These numbers have been fact-checked both by national and local media, but for some reason people like Vestal, Kurtis Robinson, Spokane Community Against Racism, as well as myself, have been called out for trying to inform the public about the dangers of this police department. Plus, this past summer these same police leaders lied to the public saying that the new state police reform laws would harm the community.

Police reform laws have saved lives, so why is the Spokane police force so afraid of reform that it has resorted to the kinds of tactics listed above, which show law enforcement isn’t being apolitical like the chief said it should be? Peace officers must now change how they work on our streets. The onus is on the police to embrace that change.

Anwar Peace is a member of the Spokane Human Rights Commission.

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