The Spokane Police Department made a big announcement Friday afternoon; they will be inviting the Department of Justice to come in and have full access to review their department.
At a press conference led by Mayor David Condon and Police Chief Frank Straub, they announced the department will also be implementing new weapons and training.
The Mayor and Spokane Police Department based their changes on a report from the Use of Force Commission. The report offered recommendations to create trust and more oversight for a police department quickly losing public confidence.
Most of the future changes will be completed by the end of the year and to the tune of $1 Million. The money isn't accounted for in the current budget, so the Mayor says he will work with the Spokane City Council to find a way to make it work.
The technical changes start with body cameras for every Spokane Police officer. The cameras will record interactions with citizens and cost about $1,000 on average. Patrol cars will also be equipped with better cameras that record an officer's interactions from the start of a pursuit to the conclusion of a traffic stop.
Officers will be issued new, smaller batons and tasers. Chief Straub said the current batons and tasers carried by officers are cumbersome and for that reason can be left behind in a patrol car to lighten the load. With new, smaller weapons the officers will have at their disposal more tools to de-escalate a situation before it gets violent or deadly.
De-escalation will also be part of new officer training, as well as crisis intervention. Straub's goal is to arm his officers with as many tools as possible so that situations do not escalate to violence.
All of these new tools and training procedures will be tested in a 360-degree virtual training world. The simulator surrounds an officer to give a more “real-life” feel, and can shoot projectiles at the officer to cause him or her to react. The simulator tracks response time, which weapons the officers chose to use and if the officer acted appropriately.
These changes all lead up to the biggest announcement at Friday's press conference: Straub and the Mayor have invited the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate Spokane's police department.
The DOJ's COPS program will use a “technical assistance” method, which calls for collaboration with the Spokane Police Department. It will look at the department's overall culture and also scrutinize how the department investigates use of force complaints. The minimum six-month process will lead to recommendations that, if not implemented, can lead to stricter oversight by the DOJ.
“What we're doing is opening the windows, the doors, taking the sheets off the bed, opening up the closet and saying 'have at it, take a look, see what's here, see what we do right, see what we do wrong, tell us what we do wrong and we'll fix it and tell us what we do right and we'll make sure we do more of that,” Straub said.
The DOJ will be in Spokane next week to begin their collaborative investigation. All other changes will be implemented by the end of 2013, including the body cameras.