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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Spokane City Council members: May we have a few words, Sheriff Knezovich?

Lori Kinnear, Karen Stratton and Betsy Wilkerson

By Lori Kinnear, Karen Stratton and Betsy Wilkerson

Sheriff Knezovich’s recent YouTube videos addressing shootings and crime in our communities and essentially casting blame at five City Council members, local legislators and certain African American civic leaders cannot go unanswered. As elected officials, Spokane City Council members are accustomed to criticisms and accusations. It is part of the job, and we respond to criticisms out of respect for our constituents. Yet this video goes beyond the usual hyperbole and accuses unelected leaders in our African American community of contributing to crime in our region. It contains untruths and misinformation that are derisive and offensive.

The uptick of criminal activity and shootings in both the city of Spokane and Spokane County is intolerable – we all can agree on that. Most of the elected officials in our region share the same desire to create a safe and nonviolent community for everyone. However, no one, elected or otherwise, can transform our community with divisive rhetoric, a narrative of discord and public intimidation. And yet that is what this video does.

In the video, the sheriff asks the question, “Why does council want to restrict resources?” Well, let us be very clear, the Spokane City Council has gone over and above supporting the Spokane Police Department. Anyone who believes the Spokane City Council is out to “defund the police” is gravely misinformed.

Supporting police reform is not the same as defunding the police. Sheriff Knezovich knows this and chooses to conflate the two. Members of the council support police reforms. Reforms do not happen without funding. Realizing this, the City Council adopted a 2022 budget that increased the Spokane Police Department operational budget by 6%.

Particularly troubling is the way this video singles out Councilmember Betsy Wilkerson. Accusing the sole African American councilmember of not supporting the police – without a shred of evidence – is unacceptable and treacherous in the wake of national civil discord rooted in racial tensions. It was grossly inappropriate and disrespectful.

Ideally, the Sheriff’s Office should be collaborating with the Spokane Police Department to address the nationwide spike in crime rates to which the Spokane region has not been immune. Why does Sheriff Knezovich blame regional crime spikes on select City Council members and our non-elected African American community leaders? The only answer seems to be that in the sunset of the sheriff’s career, this political grandstanding is a ploy for a greater hidden political agenda.

A better conversation is about what the City Council is doing to address crime in our community. Those of us on the council are aware of the problems and have addressed these issues with specific legislation to mitigate crime. All members of the City Council have advocated for behavioral health professionals to accompany officers downtown, have supported funding for a downtown precinct and have supported the public safety levy that passed with an overwhelming majority of votes. Councilmembers regularly work with neighborhood resource officers and our COPS program to connect citizens with law enforcement. We regularly meet with other elected officials, community members and other interest groups on these topics. That is the good news.

Unfortunately, the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council recently removed city officials from its task force. Removing those voices, perspectives and ideas on how to correct community safety conveniently allows the sheriff to accuse our City Council members of not wanting to collaborate. Nothing could be further from the truth. Each councilmember’s phone numbers and email addresses are available, yet City Council members have not received formal invitations to collaborate.

There is an urgency to implement change. That change can only happen with productive dialogue rooted in respect and dignity for one another. If the last few years have revealed anything about civic discourse, we must transform how we communicate with one another and how we move our communities forward. Frankly, Sheriff Knezovich’s videos fall far short of that standard.

Loir Kinnear, Karen Stratton and Betsy Wilkerson are members of the Spokane City Council. The views expressed herein are theirs, not necessarily those of the entire City Council.