By Brian Coddington
The level of violence directed at police officers this summer is as unnerving as it is jolting. Six weeks apart. Two officers injured by gunfire. The first officer was one of two aggressively targeted. The second was injured when a suspect in a drug robbery fired at police, according to investigators.
The facts of those two incidents have renewed a debate about how best to bend the increasing nationwide trend of gun violence back in a downward direction, and, more specifically, how to do it in Spokane and our state. Mayor Nadine Woodward and Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl have been outspoken about the incidents and what in their views needs to change.
The ongoing nature of the two investigations means that not all of the details of either incident are known outside of investigative circles, but a few things that have been discussed give additional insight into Mayor Woodward’s position and perspective.
Mayor Woodward’s statement following the second shooting was about the totality of legislation and the environment it is creating among the criminal element in our community. It was a commentary on the lack of respect shown for officers and the limitations they are working under as believed and communicated by the criminal element.
Speaking broadly, officers repeatedly tell her word on the street is that law enforcement has been limited in its ability to enforce drug laws, pursue suspects, and hold suspects in jail. Every officer she’s talked to – and there have been many in recent weeks as she’s attended eight police pre-shift briefings, National Night Out Against Crime, multiple Coffee With a Cop events, and other interactions this summer alone – has stories about:
• Pulling up to a stop light or encountering people in traffic, receiving a knowing look, and watching as the driver speeds off in an unsafe manner well over the speed limit, unable to do anything about it.
• Hearing from suspects that they thought the police couldn’t do anything to them.
• Individuals they have taken to jail being released before officers can even complete the paperwork.
• The impact of the state’s enhanced graduated re-entry programs that have resulted in a 26.5% reduction in average daily prison population since 2018, according to data published on the Washington State Department of Corrections website, and this while the state’s population is growing.
The mayor’s position is these and other factors have had a cumulative effect on law and order, particularly the expectation among the criminal element of a lack of accountability. They no longer fear the repercussions of the criminal justice system.
Getting a little more focused on the two recent incidents, with the limitations on the details that can be discussed at this time about the two current officer-involved shootings, here’s how the above factors apply:
The most recent incident is a drug-related crime involving an estimated 20,000 fentanyl pills, 2 pounds of methamphetamine, 1 kilogram of heroin, and a half-pound of cocaine.
Officers regularly encounter people who have hundreds-of-dollars-a-day habits they cannot legally afford to support. Requiring service referrals for users in lieu of criminal charges for the first two encounters with law enforcement has made the problem worse and is creating a strong market for dealers in Spokane, according to officers who encounter the problem every day.
The typical model of the dealer preying on the desperation of individuals has been exacerbated and those doing the preying emboldened by the lack of accountability they are experiencing. Simply stated, the demand among the individual users is inviting the supply and, along with it, the direct link between drugs and violence.
The incident this month is a violent example that played out very publicly. It started as drug-related activity at a Spokane Valley hotel and ended in the middle of a downtown street.
During the interaction with police downtown, the subject was in communication with officers attempting to get him to exit peacefully from a van. He told officers at one point that he knows the cops can’t do anything and that belief drove his actions that day. That statement is consistent with what officers regularly hear among the criminal element in the community.
The June video-recorded shooting of an officer, during which the injured officer was intentionally targeted while coming to the aid of a second officer being pursued, involved at least one individual who was on a graduated re-entry release in Spokane. As has been reported, he had another year on his sentence and would have otherwise been in prison.
SPD reviewed the mayor’s statement earlier this month for accuracy before it was released. They have not shared sensitive details with her about either case, but affirmed that her assertions were consistent with the facts they know.
The additional context provided above are the facts. In these two incidents, the victims were police officers. Too many other times other members of our community have been seriously injured or killed.
The open questions are do these outcomes meet our expectations as a community, and, assuming they don’t, what do we as a community and state do to change the behavior?
Brian Coddington is the director of communications and marketing for the city of Spokane. He wrote this piece on behalf of Mayor Nadine Woodward and Police Chief Craig Meidl in response to inquiries by Shawn Vestal about statements made in response to the recent violence targeting police and police reform legislation. Coddington can be reached at (509) 625-6740 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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