Julie Humphreys, 509.622.5868
Wednesday, July 1, 2020 at 9:42 a.m.
Our nation and community are ill. We are overwhelmed by a mental health crisis. Depression, suicidal ideation, drug addiction, broken families, and so many more challenges are tearing at the fabric of our communities. We face all of this while the level of defiance directed towards lawful authority on day-to-day calls is at an all-time high. Police officers have typically been involved in addressing these issues, while funding and support continues to be woefully inadequate to stop or address these ills before they turn into a crisis requiring law enforcement response. Much like a doctor works to help those suffering illness, injuries and unhealthy medical conditions, police officers work to address these societal harms. The doctor and police officer did not cause these harms, but they are there to address them. By the time the doctor or police officer enters into the equation, something has failed. Not the doctor, not the police officer. Illnesses are not a reflection on the failure of doctors any more than societal ills are a reflection on law enforcement. Yet much attention is paid to the police officers addressing these failures while the underlying issues requiring law enforcement intervention are too often minimized, ignored and underfunded. We have been dealing with these issues for years, and we accept the expectation our communities place on law enforcement to deal with them. However, it’s important to also look at just how good our officers are as they work in our communities at trying to resolve these issues. Like all of us, the men and women of SPD are not perfect, but they are consistently exceptional in their service to the community.
Don’t take my word for it. Let’s see what other agencies have said about SPD. In a 2016 study of SPD, White, Gaub and Todak (Arizona State University; April 27, 2016) stated, “Use of force, complaints against officers, and officer injuries are all rare events in Spokane.” This outside university is in a better position than most based on the extensive research they have done with agencies across this nation.
In a follow-up report from Arizona State University’s Doctoral Program in Leadership studies (March 22, 2017), researchers who conducted an audit of SPD’s culture noted, “Although police work involves much variability, the shared values of integrity, honesty, trust, and a strong work ethic provide a strong foundation to the work culture of the SPD. Paradoxes developed when shared values (strong work ethic) brushed against scarce resources (staffing issues), or when the strong value to serve gets tested in an environment with much negativity.” (Work Culture Audit Report Presented to the Spokane Police Department; Doctoral Program in Leadership Studies)
Earlier this year, your Spokane police officers consistently responded to calls without hesitation during the peak of the COVID spread, honoring their oath and performing their duties while harboring the same concerns about the dangers of catching this illness . They did their job at a time when the majority of the community remained secluded in their residences, even though they had the same doubts regarding the uncertainty of the pandemic or how it would affect them or their families if they brought it home. SPD employees continued to work with commitment and dedication, never hesitating to help those who needed police, oftentimes exposing themselves to those believed to have COVID.
Use of Force (January through June) is down 63% year to date (2019: 67 vs 2020: 25). Additionally despite all the turmoil of 2020, overall reported violent crime is down 10% and property crime is down 10% in 2020 as compared to 2019. This is the result of your Spokane Police Officers and their on-going commitment to excellence. They continue to show up, every day, every night, working to create a safer community at great risk to themselves from a number of different fronts.
For the last 8 years, SPD has worked at mentoring and bridging gaps with our youth through 6 weeks each summer of the Police Activities League (2019 saw record numbers of registrations with over 600 children enrolled across the City). Last year we had so many SPD officers volunteer to participate in PAL, that we had to turn some away. Additionally, SPD’s Community Outreach unit rotates through area schools (mostly high schools) on a monthly basis to dive deeper into relationships with our youth through the Youth and Police Initiative, spending one week after school with a group of about a dozen students. The smaller group size and sincere conversations have helped bridge relationships in a setting of mutual respect and honesty. There is no other program like this in our area and the popularity of this program was greater than our ability to meet the requests last year.
SPD has a member of Command Staff attend each NAACP monthly meeting, allowing our staff to be present and easily accessible to address any concerns that may arise. Very few, if any, other law enforcement agencies have made this level of commitment to their local NAACP branch. This spirit of community policing is imbedded in SPD from the line level all the way to Command Staff.
Except for female officers, which nationally is lower than the demographics represented in communities, SPD has not matched the demographics of our community this closely in years, and we are only increasing our diversity as time goes on.
SPD (in collaboration with the Sheriff’s Office) is one of only a handful of law enforcement agencies in the state of Washington that has full time mental health specialists riding with officers and responding together to those in crisis. We are at the cutting edge of this practice nationally and have seen great results in diverting patients from jail or hospital ERs (over a 75% diversion rate).
Officers also work collaboratively inside local mental health treatment centers, to build bridges with members of the community who suffer from mental illness, to increase the likelihood of positive interactions on the street.
SPD has participated in implicit bias training, de-escalation training, and crisis intervention training; we invite community of color to speak at each post-academy for those preparing to hit the streets after four and a half months of academy training. We all participate in a minimum of 24 hours of training each year, many of our officers significantly more than that.
We recently updated our mission, vision and values, based on input from every level of the organization. These values undoubtedly reflect the beliefs of what our agency stands for, as they decided what they felt best reflected our goals and what we should strive for each day.
Individuals in our organization may sometimes fall short of these tenets as all humans do, but we will never stop in our efforts to improve.
SPD works hand-in-hand with our local COPS volunteers to provide a more comprehensive level of service to the community, including National Night Out Against Crime, Bike registrations, Neighbors on Patrol, Mounted Patrol, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, and so many more programs (which can be found on the COPS website). This partnership, and the work of the COPS volunteers, is so popular, other jurisdictions are visiting Spokane to try to emulate what we have here.
SPD is one of the leading agencies in our region in our efforts to reduce domestic violence. We assign full time officers and detectives to work out of the YWCA, allowing a stronger partnership that affords a greater level of security and protection to our victims of domestic violence. These victims are often at the lowest points of their lives, and struggle with not only being in a violent relationship, but scared to move out for fear of nowhere to go. SPD works hand-in-hand with YWCA advocates to comfort, support and protect these victims.
In 2013, at the conclusion of a detailed and comprehensive analysis by the Use of Force Commission, SPD implemented dozens of recommendations to improve our processes and service to Spokane. US Attorney William Hyslop (Vice Chair for this commission) recently wrote on op-ed for the Spokesman Review acknowledging the progress of SPD, and that we are a model in many areas for other agencies to follow.
In 2014, DOJ COPS Collaborative Reform made 38 recommendations to SPD, implementing further changes beyond the Use of Force Commission. This was a very intense process that required significant resources. Undoubtedly these recommendations made us a stronger police department. But we didn’t stop once DOJ left town. Just last year, these recommendations and the updates to SPD policies and procedures, were memorialized in a DOJ publication, Spokane Police Department: Reform at its Best. The authors noted, “The Spokane (Washington) Police Department (SPD) made significant and permanent improvements through the Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance (CRI-TA) process. The SPD went above and beyond U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) suggestions in many instances—specifically in the areas of community outreach, training, and policy review.” They further stated, “In addition, the SPD provided implicit bias training to all officers, which was not a CRI-TA recommendation but deemed a priority by Chief Craig Meidl. Implicit bias training will be an ongoing effort incorporated into in-service training for the SPD.”
Though efforts at civilian oversight continue, let’s not forget that SPD has more and stronger civilian oversight than 98% of the rest of the State. While the Mayor’s office has committed to continue working on this area, we are (again) undoubtedly at the tip of the spear in this arena for our State. Conversations will clearly continue around this topic, but let’s not forget how far we are and how far we have come while we continue the dialogue.
Very few other agencies, barring Seattle which was under a mandated consent decree, has been more poked, prodded, analyzed, studied, reviewed and reformed, than the Spokane Police Department. And those very same organizations brought in to help SPD reform have spoken highly of the men and women of SPD, including acknowledgement of the lasting changes.
The above is only a portion of the changes we have made, and they don’t include voluntary updates to our policy that memorialize the sanctity of human life, a minimal reliance on use of force to effect arrests, duty to intervene and duty to report excessive force.
The men and women of SPD have been without a contract for 3 ½ years. Without a doubt, and as confirmed by outside organizations, SPD is a premier law enforcement agency that has made lasting changes. And we only continue to get better. Your men and women show up every day and serve this community with professionalism, integrity and compassion. They have more than earned a contract that is not 3 ½ years past due.
Officer John O'Brien