Culture Critique

In finalizing its landmark report, the Mayor’s Use of Force Commission calls for broad changes in the Spokane Police Department’s culture.

In response to public testimony on its heralded draft report issued in late December, the Mayor’s Use of Force Commission has now added a strong mandate to address the Spokane Police Department’s culture.

Earl Martin (center) with Commission members William Hyslop and Susan Hammond at the release of the Commission's draft report last December.
Earl Martin (center) with Commission members William Hyslop and Susan Hammond at the release of the Commission’s draft report last December.

While noting public concerns about the health of the SPD’s culture in its draft, the Commission had refrained from making a direct criticism, saying it was “not in a position to draw any definitive conclusions regarding the health or lack thereof of the SPD organizational culture.”

But after hearing from the Center for Justice, and others, the Commission dramatically changed course on the subject of the department’s culture. Here’s the language from its Final Report:


“The Commission has its own concerns about the health of the SPD’s culture. Appreciating that the organization is made up of many individuals of good faith who are doing their best in a noble profession, the Commission nevertheless sees room for improvement in the department’s underlying culture. In encounters with SPD members, some members of the Commission were struck by a sense of demoralization or defensiveness by some within the ranks and, at the same time, a lack of appreciation for the extent of the breach of trust that has occurred between the SPD and the community that it serves. The Commission believes that the SPD’s culture needs to be improved when it comes to issues of professionalism, transparency, public mindedness, and generosity of service, especially towards community members from marginalized populations. The Commission is confident that public support in the department would move in tandem with improvements in the health of the Spokane Police Department’s culture.”

The remainder of the report stays essentially the same as the earlier draft, including the Commission’s recommendation for a cultural audit of the SPD. Subsequent to the Commission’s recommendation for a culture audit, Mayor David Condon and Police Chief Frank Straub announced, in mid-February, that the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS) would be conducting the review of the SPD’s culture, as well as carefully examining its use of force reporting practices over the past several years.

The other significant news accompanying the delivery of the report came from the Mayor and Chief Straub. In a press release sent to reporters Monday, the two reported that the City and the Commission have agreed to three followup reviews by the Commission, so that the Commission can monitor and report on progress in implementing its recommendations. Those reviews will be conducted in June and December of this year, and in December 2014.

In late January, the Center for Justice appealed to both the Mayor and the Commission for the continued reviews.

“Regular reviews by the Use of Force Commission are an important part of fulfilling our commitment to making changes that will improve public trust and confidence in the Spokane Police Department,” Condon said, as part of the announcement.

In mid-February, Condon and Straub devoted much of an hour-long press conference to a detailed response and progress report on the Commission’s recommendations.

–Tim Connor for the Center for Justice

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