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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

145 N Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20530

February 2019 | Volume 12 | Issue 1

Commitment to excellence

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.

Survey results in 2018 showed high rates of community satisfaction with police encounters. Of those respondents who interacted with officers, 81 percent were satisfied with how the officer treated them, 82 percent felt the officer treated them fairly, and 82 percent felt the officer was respectful. Eighty-seven percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “The Spokane Police Department is successfully working to improve its relationship with Spokane residents.” Citizen complaints are down by 68 percent—today the SPD enjoys substantially more positive feedback from the community than complaints—and officer use of force plummeted by 26 percent in the past five years.

The survey also validated SPD training; 89 percent of respondents agreed that the SPD’s training (Crisis Intervention, De-escalation, Implicit Bias, and Procedural Justice) was beneficial to serving the community. According to Ladd Smith, Office of Police Ombudsman Commission, “The SPD is demonstrating leadership, courage, and commitment to healthy community policing as it continues towards excellence.”

Community outreach

Since beginning CRI-TA, the SPD created two successful youth programs. The Youth and Police Initiative (YPI) program connects officers and high-risk teenagers by engaging them at local high schools and middle schools. More than 500 teens have graduated to date.

“YPI is effective in bridging the gap and meeting kids where they are,” says Pastor Shon Davis, who has worked closely with the SPD on youth outreach programs. “It’s a safe place to have dialogue, to go beyond the uniform, address fears and perceptions, and see the humanity of officers.”

The Police Activities League (PAL) program also connects youth and police. The program has grown by more than 800 percent since its inception four years ago. Each summer, hundreds of Spokane youth participate in the PAL at three city neighborhood parks.

Participating youth were surveyed at the beginning of the program and again at the conclusion of the program in 2017. The results indicated that youth are 32 percent more likely to aspire to be a police officer after taking part in the PAL program.

Survey results from 2018 indicated that Spokane residents value community outreach and interactions with officers. Sixty-seven percent responded they would like more police visibility (e.g., seeing police drive by, attend meetings and events); 75% of respondents agreed that the SPD’s youth outreach efforts are beneficial to serving the community.

The SPD has doubled its number of neighborhood resource officers (NRO) since beginning CRI-TA. The NROs work carefully with detectives under the leadership of captains, sergeants, and lieutenants to address issues in the police service areas. Downtown NROs were recognized with the 2017 Value of Community Partner award for their collaborative work with the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program (SNAP) to decrease the number of people experiencing homelessness. Police precincts have hosted dozens of Coffee with a Cop events since the SPD started that program in 2014. Coffee with a Cop continues at various locations throughout the city.

Prior to CRI-TA, the SPD lacked a consistent presence at community meetings. Now SPD employees serve as liaisons and board members in many organizations, including the Salvation Army, the NATIVE Project, Lutheran Community Services Northwest, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Partners with Families and Children, Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), Downtown Spokane Partnership, East Sprague Business Association, and the Homeless Coalition.

Nondeadly use of force incidents

The SPD’s use of force training requirements exceed accreditation standards and CRI-TA recommendations. The SPD requires the following annually:

  • Training on use of force policy
  • Defensive tactics recertification
  • Force options recertification

The SPD has fostered a new level of openness and transparency with an updated media protocol, resulting in a consistent release of information to the community, especially related to officer-involved shootings.

The SPD diversified the Police Advisory Committee (PAC)—a group of community members who serve as an advisory body to the SPD—and expanded its role in reviewing critical incidents.

While the CRI-TA report did not recommend body-worn cameras, the department felt that their implementation was an important step toward increasing accountability and transparency. Body-worn cameras allow for incident review, which allows recognition or correction to be more accurately assessed. A 2015 survey by Arizona State University showed that of the community members interviewed who were captured on body-worn camera video, 80 percent rated their interaction with Spokane police as favorable. The survey also showed that community members were supportive of the adoption of body worn cameras.

Training: Above and beyond

The SPD now has one of the most comprehensive crisis invention team (CIT) training programs in Washington State. Every Spokane officer has completed a mandatory 40 hours of training to deal with a wide of range of mental health issues. The department also created a specialty team of officers to respond to incidents involving suicidal individuals, drug-induced violence, or aggressive behavior created by a mental health crisis. The partnership between the SPD and Frontier Behavioral Health has been the cornerstone for the successful CIT program.

Department-wide procedural justice training was another important step in transforming training for Spokane police officers regarding their interactions with community members. This DOJ training focuses on treating every community member with dignity and respect. This specific focus on fairness, impartiality, and transparency has led to stronger police-community relations. In addition to training officers in procedural justice, SPD instructors taught classes for the public and organizations interested in creating a procedurally just method for interacting with various stakeholders.

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.

When community stakeholders were asked about the impact of the reforms, they most frequently listed improved training for officers as a positive outcome of CRI-TA.

Ladd Smith, Office of Police Ombudsman Commission, said, “The SPD officers and administrators have made great strides to be one of the best police departments in the country. In the past 10 years, SPD has embraced collaborative reform. Examples include welcoming input from the DOJ, embracing body-worn cameras, and training every officer in mental illness awareness. Recently the SPD communicated an interest in working with the Ombudsman to effect change with the reform of its use of force policy.”

Breean Beggs, a member of the Spokane City Council, explained, "I joined the conversation on Spokane police reform in 2006 as a civil rights lawyer representing families of people who were unjustly killed due to ineffective police practices. After researching the trends in Spokane I concluded there were three major problems:

  1. Missing training for officers in de-escalation and working with the growing number of people with mental/cognitive impairments;
  2. A lack of community engagement; and,
  3. A lack of credible civilian oversight and discipline.

 I am thrilled with the results achieved by the Spokane Police Department by participating in the COPS [Office] Collaborative Reform program. The department was able to create all the needed changes I and others had identified while improving their morale and the quality of its relationship with the community. Not surprisingly, the number of complaints, and use of force incidents are dramatically reduced and police officers are now embedded in the community instead of isolated warriors. Most importantly, the City has now created a culture and institutions of self-examination and improvement."

For more information, visit the Spokane Police Department’s collaborative reform web page.

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