Despite earlier promises, the SPD and City are once again ignoring public input on police oversight.
When last we visited the Spokane City Council on the police accountability issue it was not a happy occasion, unless you were a member of the Spokane Police Guild.
This was February 10, 2014.
A year after Spokane voters overwhelmingly voted to change the city charter to require independent investigations of complaints against Spokane police officers, the council voted 6-1 (and against overwhelming public testimony) to approve a new ordinance that all but precludes independent investigations.
(The proof in that pudding is that, since Proposition 1 went into effect a year and a half ago, there have exactly ZERO independent investigations of police misconduct.)
Aware of this controversy, and trying to dull the public uproar, many of those who voted for, or supported the new ordinance assured skeptics that there was a back up, so to speak.
The Spokane Police Department would soon be requiring officers to carry personal equipment to film and record their interactions with people they approach.
How exactly this would work was what Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub spoke to on March 27th of this year when he appeared before the Mayor’s Use of Force Commission. The Commission, in the report it issued, in February of 2013 hit the City hard for its closed negotiations with the Spokane Police Guild. Those private negotiations have always run well ahead of the public, legislative process before the council and, in many cases, have left the city’s elected representatives in a take it or leave it dilemma. The commission issued a strong finding and recommendation to open up that process, to allow public input before negotiations with the Guild in order vet important issues that could be affected by the collective bargaining process.
So, in response the Commission’s concerns, the Chief was laying out how the SPD and City would collaborate with the Center for Justice and other community groups as it developed its new policy for the use of body cameras. Here’s what he said:
“We have ordered 220 body-worn cameras, (referencing a photo on the screen to his side) that’s what they will look like. And we will implement the new technology by the third quarter of 2014. Why the third quarter of 2014? Well, there really are two issues. The first is around policies/procedures and legal requirements pertaining particularly to public records requests. So we are currently working with City Legal, The Guild, Lieutenants and Captains, the Spokane County Prosecutor, the ACLU and the Center for Justice, to get their input in terms of what is an appropriate policy, procedure and practice relative to body cameras.”
The problem is, the SPD assertion that it was working with the Center for Justice on the SPD body camera policy was news to the Center for Justice.
I received this email, as did other members of the Spokane Police Accountability Reform Coalition, (SPARC) just minutes ago, from Center for Justice attorney Julie Schaffer:
“The Center is frustrated and dissatisfied with the lack of public engagement in the Body Camera Policy development. This is why we have been persistently pushing (SPD Director of Police Oversight Tim Schwering) Schwering and City Legal to commit to a process that provides meaningful public input. Below is the email confirmation I sent to them recapping our last conversation on 8/14 (I am sorry I did not update the group right away):
‘The current version of the policy will not be released at the public safety meeting next Monday. Instead, it will be released on or around September 1 by being posted on the SPD website. There will be an email address or some clear way for members of the public to send in written comments. In mid-October, the Department will host a Community Meeting to talk about the policy, demonstrate how the cameras work, answer questions and further explain how to make comments. On December 31, the pilot period will end and the Department will issue a public report shortly thereafter that discusses lessons learned, responds to comments/concerns submitted during the pilot, and releases the next version of the policy.
Please correct me if I misunderstood anything that was discussed. Thanks again for the call.’
Neither Nancy or Tim Schwering have denied that this email reflects our discussion.
Rick (Eichstaedt, the CFJ Executive Director) and I have been very clear with the Chief, IA, City Legal, the Council and the media that we have not been consulted as the Chief stated back in March.’
Moreover, there’s no indication that any other local groups, including the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS), has ever been approached for its input on the policy.
“It’s just not the case that Tim Schwering (the SPD’s Director of Police Oversight) or Chief Straub sought input from the organizations who have spoken out on this issue,” PJALS Director Liz Moore said earlier this afternoon.
What’s at least as important, and even more bizarre is that the latest draft of the policy is still being withheld, even from the Spokane City Council. (UPDATE: the draft revised policy was sent to me by both Council President Ben Stuckart and Public Safety Committee chair Jon Snyder, early Tuesday evening, a few hours after this story was posted. I’m pleased to share it.)
I was at the Council’s monthly Public Safety Committee meeting yesterday along with Schaffer and Heidi Groover, a reporter with The Inlander. I attended because I’d been told that the latest version of the SPD body camera policy would be distributed, and I planned to get a copy and share it with you here. I came away (as did everyone else) empty-handed.
The text below is a verbatim excerpt transcript from my recording of the meeting, which was chaired by City Councilman Jon Snyder.
As you’ll see, Snyder cut me off when I tried to ask if the public
would receive a copy of the policy. But the most frustration came from his fellow council members, most notably Council President Ben Stuckart. After the meeting I did ask Councilman Snyder to send me a copy of the latest draft when he makes it available (as he said he would) to Ben Stuckart. He said he would do so. I don’t have it yet, but I’ll share it when Councilman Snyder or someone else shares it with me.
The still-draft policy will go into effect in just 13 days, when the SPD is scheduled to start its pilot program, deploying 17 of the cameras.
My notes pick up where Schwering—who is the lead person for SPD on body camera policy—is briefing the Public Safety Committee on where things stand. He had just finished explaining that the draft policy would be revised after the pilot program, “once we get community feedback and really see the technical and logistical issues.”
This is what happened next.
Council President Ben Stuckart: “I thought last month that on this month’s agenda we’d kind of go over that policy and offer our feedback.”
SPD Director of Police Oversight, Tim Schwering: “I had talked to Jon, I’m sorry, Councilman Snyder about that, we decided because we’re just wrapping up a few things that we wanted to have— just coincide with the release of the project.”
Stuckart: “So long as I get my feedback to you before the policy is
Councilwoman Amber Waldref: “Yeah, I’ve been getting lots of questions from the community but I haven’t even been…
Stuckart: “But if I don’t have an opportunity for feedback..
Councilman and Public Safety Committee chair, Jon Snyder: (interrupting) “You can blame me for that. What Tim and I talked about since they were still in draft stages, and we’re going to get them about a week or two before we go live and that will be our opportunity to give feedback.”
Stuckart: “According to this, that’s today. Right? If we’re going live September 1st.”
Snyder: “So, so, we’ll get that policy next week then.
Schwering: “Probably towards the end of this week.
Snyder: “And if anybody wants to have..I’ve had a meeting with Tim individually and other folks are welcome to as well. But everybody needs to keep in mind this is a draft policy and that we will not be able to get this thing perfect, or right, coming straight out of the gate.”
Tim Connor (me) “Will you make it public?”
Snyder: “Tim, you need to not interject in our meeting. I’d be happy to talk to you afterwards. But this is not a public meeting where we take public comment.”
Snyder: “We will then be able to go forward and have the opportunity for the public meeting that Mister Schwering mentioned and it is fully expected that we will be making changes and tweaks to this as we go along. This is such a huge shift and such a big paradigm change that it’s hard to imagine us coming perfect right out of the gate.”
Stuckart: “I guess I’d just say I’m not striving for perfection but I’m striving for some input before its implemented and the policy is on the street.”
Snyder: “Well, if you’re not happy with the week, I’m happy for you and Tim to arrange to talk today.”
Stuckart: “I just need where the draft is at now, physically in my in-box, so I can offer some input on where the draft is today on some things that I’ve seen that I’d suggest changing. And I’d like to be on the record as saying those things need to be tightened up before we go live on September 1st. And it seems like after this meeting, somebody could just hit ‘send’ and I’d have the physical document and I’ll give the input within a week so if anybody wants to take my suggested changes they could implement them before the policy is live before September 1st.”
Snyder: So council president, I was fully expecting that week to be enough time to do that. If it’s not enough time I can ask Mr. Schwering to get it to you, today.
Stuckart: “That’d be great.”
Snyder: “Would that be satisfactory to you?”
Stuckart: “That’d be great. Because that would give me a week to input. I just feel like if I’m sending comments on August 30th, and the cameras are going live on September 1st, that doesn’t serve any function. Because it’s just going to go in a file.”
Snyder: “I guess I’m taking the position that I’m not even sure I want to be putting a lot robust, pre-implementation changes on this because…you weren’t here, or were you? Did you got when Captain Scalise…”
Stuckart: “Nancy McLaughlin and I went out with the cameras on.”
Snyder: “That was a really good example of how many different variables we’re going to deal with here. This is a case where I think we just need to get this going and that’s going to be the best opportunity to get it working.
Stuckart: “And I actually disagree. I spent a lot of time on the (state) Attorney General request that I worked with Senator (Andy) Billig on because I have huge concerns on the privacy side and I want to make sure that we’re getting it right up front.”
Snyder: “So we’re going to agree to disagree on this, all right? And I will get you your policy this afternoon. And you should have plenty of time to be able to offer feedback on it. Will that be acceptable?”
Snyder: “Alright. Any other question about the body camera policy and the draft rules?”
Waldref: “So I don’t need it today but is it going to come to the rest of the council by the end of the week?”
Schwering: “It will be to the council by the end of the week. We’re just fine-tuning a few housekeeping things on it.”
Waldref: “Thank you.”
Snyder: “To be clear, here, the police department went out to community groups and worked with them and tried to partner with them on this. That was a good thing to do. I actually appreciated them doing that before they came to council. So that by the time something comes to council it’s already seen a round of that sort of input.”
Stuckart: “The police accountability group is actually concerned because the ACLU saw it (the previous draft policy) before them and released it to the press.”
Snyder: “As far as I’m concerned that was a big mistake on there part. If we’re trying to bring folks in to give feedback and they want to do that collaboration process with the press, instead of through genuine collaboration, I don’t think it’s very productive for anyone.”