Jeff Humphrey

Police Reforms Create New Trust, Partnerships

Jeff Humphrey, Media Content Coordinator, 509.625.6308

Tuesday, October 16, 2018 at 2 p.m.

The Spokane Police Department is wrapping a major overhaul on the way it controls crime and interacts with community.

The collaborative reforms include 38 improvements recommended by citizens and the Department of Justice after a man named Otto Zehm died during a 2006 confrontation with officers.

“That led to a criminal prosecution, a community demanding changes and several years later, we put that together to make some real changes in Spokane,” recalls City Councilman Breean Beggs.

One of the most significant changes included new training for officers to help police recognize and de-escalate situations where emotions, drugs or mental health problems could lead to someone getting hurt.

“So the CIT training is 40 hours of preparing an officer for those kind of encounters he or she may have with someone who is in crisis. Whether it’s because of mental illness or a substance use disorder,” said Jan Dobbs, Chief Operating Officer for Spokane’s Frontier Behavioral Health.

Spokane police are also now outfitted with specialized equipment to help them better de-escalate dangerous situations at a distance and avoid the use of deadly force.

“One of the things we stress through CIT is that you have to understand that this person is in a crisis. Either they have a mental health issue or they’re just enraged and how you engage with them, can help calm down that situation or it can throw fuel on the fire,” explained Chief of Police Craig Meidl.

New tools and training are some of the reasons why during the past five years, Spokane police have seen a 26 percent decrease in uses of force and a 68 percent decrease in complaints.

“I think the message we got out to the community is that we are department that truly does care. We do want to grow, we do want to evolve, but more importantly, we are a department that has a heart for the community,” said Meidl.

Spokane police have also reached out to the people they serve.

Programs like the Police Athletic League and the Youth Police Initiative help build trust and relationships.

“And now it’s more, ‘let’s work together’ and get to know the community. And the police are going out, both from leadership and individually, and engaging the community and restoring that relationship that the police work for the civilians,” Beggs said of the reforms.

Outreach to citizens young and old has boosted the police department’s customer service scores.

In 2015, just 56 percent of the public felt SPD was successfully working to improve its relationship with residents.

By 2018, that approval rating had jumped to 87 percent.

That same survey shows 82 percent of the people contacted by Spokane cops felt the officers treated them fairly and respectfully.

“The partnership we have with our citizens, the trust our citizens have with their police officers, that’s where we start dealing with and addressing neighborhood-level criminal activity. That’s how we become the safest city of our size,” said Spokane mayor David Condon.

Collaborative reform also called for more civilian oversight and created the Office of the Police Ombudsman.

“And the idea behind that was not to punish or discipline or point fingers at the police. The idea was to understand what happened in any situation and make recommendations of how to minimize the chance of that happening in the future,” emphasized Beggs.

Meidl also pointed out it’s been 12 years since Zehm’s death. Almost half of the police force has retired since then and Meidl says in their place, he sees a better equipped, more highly trained department.

“I think once the community really starts to understand that their department cares about them, it makes it easier for them to care about us as well,” Meidl said hopefully.

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