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Spokane Use-of-Force Commission Praises Police Progress

February 17, 2015  | 

Photo: Facebook
Photo: Facebook

In its final meeting before it disbands, the city’s Use of Force Commission lauded the improvements made by the Spokane Police Department in the last two years, reports the Spokesman-Review.

But members also questioned why two of its recommendations have not been fully completed: a culture audit of the department and department-wide use of body cameras. The two recommendations were among the 26 the commission gave to the police department for implementation.

The commission was formed in early 2012 in response to the federal conviction of a police officer for using excessive force against Otto Zehm, who died in police custody six years earlier.

Commissioner Susan Hammond praised the department for the improvements over the last two years, particularly the crisis intervention training. That training likely led to the reduction of use of force by officers, she said.

Police Chief Frank Straub said the U.S. Department of Justice did a random survey of officers and he considers that enough to satisfy the culture audit recommendation. However, the DOJ specifically stated that the survey should not be considered a culture audit.

Straub also was questioned about efforts to increase transparency surrounding negotiations with the Spokane Police Guild, the union that represents officers. He told the commission that he’s working toward that goal but there has to be some privacy in negotiations “in order to advance the ball.”

Straub said he is moving forward with body cameras. The department purchased 200 of them and 25 are now in use, he said. That number should increase next month when the department partners with Arizona State University on a study measuring the effect of body cameras on police and community interactions.

Straub credited increased staffing and better training, including crisis intervention training for nearly every officer in the department, for dropping both the overall crime rate in 2014 and the number of use of force incidents by police.

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