Use of Force commission sees Spokane Police willing to improve

Use of Force commission sees Spokane Police willing to improve

SPOKANE, Wash. - In a strange twist of fate, a deadly officer-involved shooting happened less than 24 hours before Spokane Police were scheduled to appear before the Use of Force Commission, a citizen panel looking for ways to reduce conflicts between police and the public.

The citizen panel, an independent Spokane commission formed under the authority of the office of the mayor, recognizes that there will always be desperate people who invite officer involved shootings, but what the commission has been pushing for is training that gives officers more options for dealing with the public when emotions are running high.

The Use of Force Commission is one of several groups now policing the police and Thursday the panel wanted an update on the progress the department was making in implementing 26 recommendations to reform the department.

"We have to get up each and every day and say what do we need to do to make the police department better," Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub said.

Straub told the commission Thursday that crime is down 14-percent in Spokane from this time last year and that the department had boosted the amount of it's in service training.

"One of the very important recommendations from the Use of Force commission was crisis intervention training that is also directly correlated to the settlement agreement in the Otto Zehm matter," Straub said.

90-percent of the department has now been certified in crisis intervention training, which is recognizing people having mental, medical or cognitive problems out there on the street and then using special ways to deal with them.

Another recommendation asked the department step up training in ways to deescalate run-ins with uncooperative suspects while still finding a balance with officer safety. However Wednesday night verbal commands did not work on a robbery suspect who was shot after he came out of a North Spokane residence holding a weapon.

Despite the deadly turn of events Wednesday night, Use of Force Commission chairman Marty Martin said the police department is making important improvements.

"I speak for the commission in that regard. I see a willingness, and that's the most important thing, a willingness to improve and that's being spread across the department and so we're quite enthusiastic about this," Martin said.