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Morale, lack of diversity highlighted in culture audit of Spokane Police

Morale, lack of diversity highlighted...

SPOKANE, Wash. - Constant change in leadership and a desire for more officers have contributed to problems with morale inside the Spokane Police Department; those are some of the conclusions reached in a culture audit recommended by the Department of Justice.

Researchers relied on 100 interviews with commissioned officers and civilian employees over the last several months. It also conducted a survey of all employees and relied on observations, including ride-alongs with officers.

Department Culture
Among the observations, the audit revealed the culture of SPD to be "strong" and "tight." That said, researchers found some officers and employees believed "it is difficult to get accepted into the strong and cohesive culture."

One officer said SPD is still a "good ol' boy system." One officer, hired after working in another state, said he had to work harder to prove himself despite his experience and that "[SPD culture] would be a bit challenging for a newcomer."

Other officers said that kind of "prove yourself" mentality is not uncommon in law enforcement and not unique to SPD.

The team noted a lack of diversity in the leadership team of the Spokane Police Department and that the "promotion process ought to be looked at."

Researchers said "some women and minorities do not feel they are given the same opportunities for enhancement and acceptance." The data shows the department is made up of 307 commissioned officers. 282 are white and 278 are men.

According to the audit, "Interviewees did share both in interviews and through the surveys that they felt women and minorities were not being treated fairly."

Changes in Leadership
The report discussed the issue of changes in leadership over the last 20 years and the effect those changes have had on morale.

"In the 30 years since Chief Magnan began his tenure in 1987 to February 2017, there have been 11 chiefs or directors at the apex of leadership in the SPD," researchers write.

"Many in the study expressed concern about the constant flux and change in the department due to shifting leadership" especially given the demands and stressful nature of police work.

Department Morale
Most of the officers surveyed reported feeling their work was important and that they do their best to provide quality service to the people of Spokane. They also, though, cited stress and feeling overworked and underappreciated as dragging down their morale.

In the survey, there were 13 comments made about low morale. Comments included "on a merry-go-round with morale" and, that "SPD's morale was at an all-time low."

Many participants felt they might be "overly criticized by the community."

One reason for that low morale came from officers feeling there weren't enough of them to handle the workload. 34% said they would like more officers and civilian employees to handle the demand.

In addition, several officers cited a disconnect between the work they do and their perception in the community. Several pointed to how the community feels about them as having a direct impact on how they feel about their job.

"This group of officers and civilian workers value trust and honesty, helping and serving others and having an impact on the community and they seem to enjoy living in and working for the SPD," the report said. "That said, then, it is hard to understand, from the perspective of the SPD employees, why the community in which they live and work seems to criticize or does not trust the work they do."

Some officers blame the media for that distrust and cited the media as the reason they often struggle to connect with the community. One officer said, "They need to make it entertaining as opposed to, maybe, what is necessarily, um, the truth about what happened or every perspective about what happened... The biggest challenge is getting the media to step out of the way of our police department and the community."

The research team did not make recommendations "based on gathering data for such a short time" and because they are not in law enforcement professionals. Instead, it ended its report with a series of "questions to start conversations."

The department and researchers will discuss the report and its effects in a news conference Friday.