As Use of Force Commission wraps up its work, the Center for Justice and others look to implementation.
After being literally applauded for its work by an audience in Hillyard Wednesday afternoon, the City’s Use of Force Commission gathered its notes and slowly left the Northeast Community Center to go finish the work it began 392 days ago.
But if the Center for Justice gets its wish, this won’t be the last that the public sees the commission.
In a letter sent to Mayor David Condon on Tuesday, CFJ Executive Director Rick Eichstaedt formally asked the mayor to extend the commissions lifetime for at least three years, so the panel could oversee the implementation of its recommendations.
While praising the Commission for its “superb” work, Eichstaedt wrote that funding and implementation are the keys going forward and our biggest concern is that the fine work of the Commission will be for naught—or at least severely compromised—absent a commitment for systemic implementation.”
That request was seconded by others who attended the meeting in Hillyard on Wednesday, including Leo DiValentino, a retired military intelligence officer who relocated to Spokane from El Paso, Texas, five and a half years ago.
“The opportunity that you have here will not happen again in five, eight or ten years,” DiValentino said. “So it’s very important that what comes out of this work effort that it be complete, that it be thoroughly enforced and followed up properly.”
Wednesday’s meeting was perhaps the liveliest of the eleven commission meetings extending back to last winter, when the commission began its probe at the behest of Mayor David Condon.
One of the main recommendations that the Center implored the commission to include in its final report is at least one that would ensure the police department is moving to collect data needed to discern racial and ethnic bias in police stops. This recommendation was seconded by Liz Moore, the director of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane. (PJALS).
Moore noted that in 2009, according to data provided her by police ombudsman Tim Burns, there was a disproportionately high number of African Americans (7) and Native Americans (3) among the 27 people who were tasered by Spokane police.
“This one set of data from this one year suggests that it is possible that officers are feeling a higher level of threat when there’s an African-American in front of them, or a Native American in front of them, than when there’s a white person in front of them,” she said. “And if that is what’s happening, that’s an inaccurate assessment of threat and an inaccurate way to be policing in our community.”
Center for Justice lawyer Julie Schaffer drew upon county jail statistics to make a similar point.
Those numbers, Schaffer wrote, “indicate that people of color are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system: in 2011, African Americans made up 12% of the jail population, but only 1.7% of Spokane County’s overall population. We believe it is crucial that the causes of this disparity be examined and that specific recommendations be developed to eliminate this inequality.”
In his remarks, CFJ community advocate Tim Connor implored the Commission to “clear its throat” in assessing the evidence that the SPD has a serious culture problem.
In its draft report released late last year, the Commission wrote that it was not in a position to draw “any definitive conclusions regarding the health or lack thereof of the SPD organizational culture.”
Said Connor to the Commission Wednesday afternoon:
“ We disagree, we think you are (in a position), and as we explain in some detail in the (written comments), the facts and incidents presented within the covers of your draft report are indicative of a culture of exoneration and denial within the Department, and that this is what culminated in the notorious Karl Thompson salute by some fifty uniformed officers in November 2011 before members of the Zehm family. The problem with not connecting the dots in your report and speaking to this rather obvious cultural problem is that it makes it easier for those resisting reform if they can use your report to say you didn’t find a problem with SPD culture, otherwise you would have said so.”
The first person to address the Commission Wednesday was Jan Dobbs, the Director of Crisis Services for Frontier Behavioral Health in Spokane. Dobbs has, for years, been organizing so-called “Crisis Intervention Team” training to help police officers deal more effectively and less violently with people who exhibit mental health problems.
Dobbs announced that the CIT training will resume in March of this year, with another 40 hour course scheduled in September.
The mandate for the training is a departure from the strictly voluntary trainings that Dobbs and the SPD have organized to date. Typically, there is one CIT training per year, although the 2012 training was canceled for lack of interest.
When asked if her volunteer trainers could handle training for the entire force, Dobbs was cautious.
“If we consistently provide two or more trainings per year,” she said, “I would need to talk to the presenters to see what kind of an impact that would have on them personally.”
Commission chair Earl Martin concluded the meeting by explaining that the Commission would use the month of February to review public comments and finalize its report.
“We will present that report to the mayor before the end of February,” he said.