Outgoing Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl is resigning at the end of the year to give incoming Mayor Lisa Brown a “clean slate,” he said in a recent interview. But he hopes the rest of the department will give the mayor-elect a chance.
Meidl, 52, intended to retire from the department soon, regardless of the results of the November election, and said he would have only stayed on a few months longer if Mayor Nadine Woodward was re-elected.
The police chief believed, however, that his philosophy on addressing crime would clash with Brown’s. Meidl pointed to chronic offenders, including in the city’s homeless population, and said he worried there would be too much emphasis on providing additional services: “too much carrot, not enough stick.”
Meidl said he didn’t want his objections to the direction Brown might take the police department to act as an “anchor” on her leadership.
“I don’t want it to devolve into that,” he said. “And I’m not saying it would, but that’s certainly my concern, is being tasked with doing something that doesn’t line up with what I think is going to actually provide the best service to the community based on my lived experiences.”
Immediately after Meidl announced his resignation, Brown thanked him for his years of service and said she still wanted to have a conversation with him and Assistant Chief Justin Lundgren to discuss the department’s needs and other matters.
“I’m open to whatever kind of conversation he wants to have,” Brown said Wednesday.
Meidl confirmed that he anticipates speaking with Brown next week and planned to encourage her to support the department and to advocate on its behalf in the community.
“I would ask her to get to know what we do, how we do it and why we do it, all within the parameters of our staffing issues, or equipment issues, and the jail issues as well,” Meidl said.
Ahead of the November election, former Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich issued a video statement warning that there would be an exodus of officers leaving the Spokane Police Department if Brown was elected, a sentiment echoed by Woodward on the campaign trail. But Meidl said he hoped officers would not follow him out the door.
“I hope that, those who either voted differently or fear the potential outcome, give the mayor-elect a chance before you formulate any opinion,” Meidl said.
Meidl noted he had often been critical of the decisions of the police chief before he was the one leading the department.
“And then you sit in that seat and go, like, oh, I get it,” he said. “We have these ideas of how we would do things outside looking in, and then when you get in there, it all makes sense.”
Meidl noted that he intends to stay in Spokane for the immediate future, and if he ever moves, it will be to live closer to his children. His wife, Traci Meidl, a captain with the Spokane Police Department, will stay with the department following his resignation at the end of the year.
Meidl reflected last week on his seven-year tenure leading the Spokane Police Department, pointing to the same lesson as his proudest achievement and the mistake from which he hoped his successor would learn.
“Finding that balance between the department and community is an art,” he said. “If you’re just like, I’m all about the community, the department is a tool to get my mission accomplished, you’re going to alienate your department.
“But if you’re only in the department and all you care about is the department, the community feels alienated and ostracized from their police department.”
Early on, Meidl said an officer came to him to express that the new chief spent time at community events but relatively little within the department and with the rank and file, such as at roll call.
Meidl also reflected on a controversy earlier this year that colored his relationship with some on the City Council and in the community.
The police chief came under fire for his communications with local business leaders, which some activists argued had amounted to a shadow effort to undermine police reforms and hurt political opponents.
The police chief and businessman Chud Wendle, who is active in local politics and has been sharply critical of left-leaning council members and state lawmakers, emailed each other “hundreds, if not thousands” of times, according to a report from the Office of the Police Ombudsman.
Meidl provided Wendle information about cases and suspects, had special reports compiled and shared information that Wendle then used for political “lobbying purposes,” a degree of communication that some felt showed preferential treatment to Wendle and other business owners who opposed state police reforms and liberal politicians.
Then-City Council President Breean Beggs said the ombudsman’s investigation had revealed a “shadow public advocacy campaign the chief was running with Chud Wendle,” adding that he was “outraged” by the findings.
In retrospect, Meidl maintained that his communications with Wendle were not philosophically different from some others with local activists, but said that he regretted the tone of a small number of the emails.
He argued that Wendle and other business owners had sought to reduce crime in the city, and that his communications were meant to educate them on what Meidl saw as barriers to that mission, including state-level police reforms.
“There are sometimes people that will weaponize that information,” Meidl said. “That’s not my intent. I’m just doing this to shed light on what we need.”
Emma Epperly contributed to this article.