Use of Force Commission releases draft proposal

SPOKANE, Wash. - What does the Spokane Police Department need to do to improve their relationship with the people of Spokane? That was the task placed before the mayor's Use of Force Commission earlier this year.

Mayor David Condon commissioned the panel on his first day in office, and came in response to the Otto Zehm case and other complaints about use of force. On Thursday the panel handed over its recommendations.

The draft report outlines 26 recommendations; everything from changing the way police respond to aggressive behavior to giving the ombudsman's office independent power.

Use of Force

The night Otto Zehm faced Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson in a north Division Zip Trip convenience store forever changed our city and the Spokane Police Department. Zehm died; Thompson is now in prison after being found guilty in federal court of using excessive force.

Now there's a road map to prevent this tragedy from ever happening again.

After a year of research, hearings and interviews the six-member Use of Force commission released its draft report Thursday.

"What you have in your presence is the best effort of on part of the commission to identify ways to improve policing in Spokane, other agencies and general public," Commission chairman Marty Martin said.

The commission has outlined 26 recommendations, from outfitting officers with body cameras to changing and improving training. Martin said staffing levels also need to be examined.

"There's a direct correlation between the amount of resources the department has and its ability to appropriately use force and carrying out its responsibilities. Our mayor, chief and city council have a lot of work to do to make sure the department has the resource for police to do its work and those resources are deployed to the greatest possible effect," Martin said.

The commission also recommends officers first use warnings and verbal persuasion to de-escalate situations involving aggressive people.

Recommendation 20 gives the ombudsman's office independent investigative authority. The office investigates claims of excessive force and other complaints against the department.

"In my estimation there is nothing but good that can come out of this on part of the department if it would embrace a fully empowered ombudsman," Martin said.

Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub got his first glance of the commission's report Thursday afternoon.

"We need, and I said early on, we will go and talk to anyone who wants to talk to us. We will listen to our critics and we will adopt those things that will make us a better police department and will help us service the community," Chief Straub said.

This is just a proposal and before the city makes any decisions, it wants to hear from you. You can e-mail your thoughts on the proposal to useofforce@spokanecity.org . The city will also have two meetings in January to discuss the report and hear your ideas.

Click here to read the commission's report.