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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Crime/Public Safety

Community groups, Spokane city leaders frustrated as roundtable talks on policing come to abrupt end

Jan. 31, 2023 Updated Tue., Jan. 31, 2023 at 9:50 p.m.

Years of roundtable discussions among police, city leaders and community groups on police reform came to an abrupt end Tuesday as community organizations aired their frustrations about the process and lack of progress.

The apparent disillusionment from the groups led to the abrupt cancellation of the latest meeting by the city and a set of dueling news conferences to address the fallout.

“It was our cautious hope that these talks were a good-faith effort by our governmental leaders to engage the community toward the goal of substantive policy changes by the city of Spokane and the Spokane Police Department to address what was, at that point in time, the fifth-deadliest police department of the largest 100 cities in the United States,” Pastor Walter Kendricks said at a Tuesday morning news conference. “Unfortunately, I personally felt from the very beginning that these community conversations were riddled with issues of inequality, disrespect, bad faith participation and undermined by those in charge.”

Kendricks, longtime pastor of Morningstar Missionary Baptist Church, serves as the chair of the Washington state commission on African American Affairsand was a community representative at the roundtable talks.

At her own news conference with Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl later Tuesday, Mayor Nadine Woodward said she, too, was saddened the talks ended so abruptly.

“We are disappointed and frustrated to be talking to you about a disruption that we had today to a very important stakeholder conversation about how our community expects to evolve policing in the city of Spokane,” Woodward said.

Talks troubled from the start

The series of roundtable talks began in 2021, a year after millions of people across the globe and thousands in Spokane protested the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Shortly after the Spokane protests, Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs announced a series of legislative goals, saying a series of community conversations on those goals would take place. The talks began a year later and were held privately, with participants agreeing to not discuss the substance of the conversations until their conclusion. The delay in starting the conversations was due in part to COVID-19 restrictions.

In the meantime, state legislators adopted a sweeping set of police reforms that have drawn continued criticism from law enforcement statewide, including in Spokane.

The delay in discussion on reform frustrated many community members, but participants were cautiously hopeful once talks began, they said.

“We were cautious because this was only the latest time the city had called upon active community members to provide their perspective, only to dismiss what was shared,” Kendricks said.

He mentioned a quote from longtime activist and participant in the talks, Sandy Williams, who died in a plane crash late last year.

“You get tired of saying the same thing over and over and over again, and nobody wants to listen because they don’t want to hear it. Because if they hear it – really hear it – then they have to do something,” Williams told The Spokesman-Review in 2020.

City leaders pressured participants to sign nondisclosure agreements, which they refused to do. The community members said they needed to report back on the talks to their respective organizations.

The time, format, participants and agenda for the talks were all set by city leaders without significant input from community members, Kendricks said.

Once the talks began, there were continued delays due to health and family issues of participants, both the city and community members said. Williams’ death also impacted the talks.

Jac Archer, with Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane and Spokane Community Against Racism , said that even when the talks felt productive to community members, police union representatives pulled back from the process.

“During this time, city leaders and law enforcement encountered multiple opportunities to demonstrate their commitment to trust-building and collaborative action with us,” Kendricks said. “Instead, law enforcement’s representatives threatened to leave the conversation in the face of plain discussion from community members and had to be coaxed back.”

Archer and Kendricks said the Spokane Police Department and city leadership failed to listen to the community on a host of issues while the talks were ongoing, including Camp Hope, moving a police precinct into the former East Central Library building and issues with school safety.

Woodward and Meidl pushed back against police reforms passed at the state level, Kendricks and Archer added.

Each group present listed community actions they have taken over the last three years, like hosting workshops on de-escalation skills, hosting bystander intervention training, holding town halls and working with state agencies to develop training on their communities.

“We call upon the city of Spokane to match our energy and efforts,” Archer said.” We call upon the city to pass police accountability and community safety legislation that aligns with the recommendations of the Police Leadership Advisory Committee of 2016, the conclusions of these police reform roundtables … and the best practices and data available.”

Due to their frustrations with the process, the community groups said they are not willing to participate in further roundtable discussions on policing and public safety.

Talks end abruptly

On Monday evening, a slew of groups announced a news conference following the latest roundtable discussion, including Spokane Community Against Racism, the Spokane NAACP, the Peace and Justice Action League, Greater Spokane Progress, Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, and the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition of Spokane.

Woodward’s office canceled what would have been the fifth roundtable discussion in three years, hours before it was set to start, citing a lack of facilitators and that a large portion of the community groups no longer wanted to participate, according to an email sent to participants by city spokesperson Brian Coddington.

The community groups’ statement indicated they would participate in the final roundtable but, due to frustrations with the process, would not participate in city-led roundtables in the future.

Woodward took that to mean the groups did not want to participate in Tuesday’s meeting and canceled it, she said at the news conference.

“We saw the announcement from some members of the roundtable that did not want to continue those conversations, because they weren’t happy with the progress,” Woodward said. “They wanted to see more progress. So we decided, they don’t want to meet, which is very unfortunate.

“Then we will turn our focus to the state level.”

The community groups said at their news conference they would have liked the final talk to continue.

“It was always our intention to see this phase of conversation through and then share our experiences of the process,” Archer said. “Instead of being able to share our thoughts with them directly, the city preemptively shut down conversation.”

A lack of moderators was part of the problem, the city said. Previously, Seattle attorney Andrea Brenneke and Kiantha Duncan moderated the talks. Duncan, who served as president of the Spokane NAACP until Monday night, declined to moderate further talks.

She pulled out of the NAACP citing a difference in philosophy between her and organizations she worked with. Duncan declined to comment on why she pulled out of moderating the roundtable. Brenneke had a health issue that prevented her from participating.

Beggs noted that the community groups calling the media to the roundtable violated the ground rules of the conversation and signaled they had changed their approach .

“It was a hard end to this phase,” Beggs said.

Next steps

The roundtable group had planned to finalize a joint statement and plan for police reform at this meeting, Beggs said. He released the most recent draft of that statement Tuesday afternoon, which shows some consensus around key issues. The document is largely updates and fine-tuning to the proposals Beggs announced before.

Beggs plans to push this agenda forward in the near future through talks with Meidl and Woodward.

The community groups said they plan to continue their advocacy and organizational work around police reform, but do not think further discussion with the city would be productive.

Woodward and Meidl plan to turn their attention to not just the state level, but “restoring the balance between needing evolutions in policing and the needs of our community and our community members to feel safe.”

Just after the news conference Tuesday night, the pair testified to the state Legislature in support of loosening requirements around police pursuits.

“We need to send three messages very loud and clear,” Woodward said. “To those who break the law, you will be held accountable. To our officers, you are valued and supported with the tools to effectively do your jobs.

“To our community, we hear you. We hear that public safety is your top priority and that you expect us to find the right balance between evolving policing and keeping our community safe from the drug, property and violent crime that is grinding in our city.”

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