Bad to Worse

Despite earlier promises, the SPD and City are once again ignoring public input on police oversight.

–Tim Connor

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.

Body cameras.

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.”

As Straub spoke, this slide was displayed.03-27-14 slide

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

SPD Director of Police Oversight Tim Schwering.
SPD Director of Police Oversight Tim Schwering.

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

Council President Ben Stuckart
Council President Ben Stuckart


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.”

Connor: “Sure.”

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?”

Stuckart: “Yes.”

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.”

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6 thoughts on “Bad to Worse”

  1. Were you expecting something more? Transparency?

    This will drag on for many more months.

    I still think going to the Board of Commissioners to require inquest hearings for all officer involved shootings and deaths. IMO this will quickly bring the accountability that we are all seeking at least for these death cases.

  2. So who are these community groups the Spokane Police consulted with? The Downtown Spokane Partnership? The local Republican Party? The Spokane Police Guild? The names of these organizations should be made public. Nevertheless, the failure to consult the Center for Justice and the other organizations involved for years – the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS) and the Spokane Police Accountability and Reform Coalition (SPARC), the ACLU and the League of Women Voters, and others is totally unacceptable and displays a total lack of integrity.

    The real business of this council is development as will be increasingly clear as time passes. The police accountability issue is something that behind closed doors this council decided it needed to put behind it understanding that they would be able to definitively accomplish with the addition of Candace Mumm as a fourth so-called “progressive” voice on the council. In betraying the public’s long struggle for effective independent oversight, they made that clear. Close was good enough for them.

    This exchange between the snake Jon Snyder and Council President Ben Stuckart – whose lack of tolerance for democratic process is more evident every time he says in less than four seconds, “Public Comment? Let’s vote” – makes it clear that they are willing to rush this body camera issue through without public input and while pretending they are smart enough to address its defects and shortfalls after the fact. Public confidence in this council one of the most important issue over many years for the person on the street is at stake and already severely jeopardized. Police issues will not go away. The current prominence of the police militarization issue as a result of Ferguson, Missouri and other communities assures the fact that the issue of militarization will arise in Spokane again. Mayor Condon’s transition committee expressed serious concern about militarization of the Spokane Police Department and yet the CIty of Spokane, the Mayor and the City Council have done absolutely zero on that issue.

    Thanks to Tim Connor for continuing to dog these scoundrels at every turn.

  3. Councilman Jon Snyder sent me the following comments last night via email–FYI: SPD did actually go out for community input on the draft policy. The first group they spoke to was the ACLU. The ACLU, instead of engaging in a feedback dialogue, went straight to the press with their concerns instead of SPD. You can read about in the July 9 Inlander. To say that SPD solicited no community input on the draft policy is not accurate.

    1. Tim…you are a sharp guy…perhaps you could answer some questions for me regarding this new draft policy. I have many, many more but I don’t want to bore you with all of them.

      Patrol officers should activate the body camera at the outset of each contact, whether or not the contact documents a significant incident, forms part of a criminal investigation or has any perceived evidentiary value to the officer.

      Notice the word “should” rather than “will”

      Isn’t this section of the policy contradicted in the rest of the policy?

      B. CONSENT – Consent to record shall be considered obtained when the recording party has announced to all other parties engaged in the communication or conversation, in any reasonably effective manner, that such communication or conversation is being recorded. The announcement also must be recorded.

      If the recording is not in public, and in a place where I have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and I DO NOT consent to the recording, yet the officer continues to record based on this policy would the officer be guilty of a gross misdemeanor, and the City of Spokane subject to civil litigation?


      RCW 9.73.080
      (1) Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, any person who violates RCW 9.73.030 is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.

      (2) Any person who knowingly alters, erases, or wrongfully discloses any recording in violation of RCW 9.73.090(1)(c) is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.

      RCW 9.73.060
      Violating right of privacy — Civil action — Liability for damages.
      Any person who, directly or by means of a detective agency or any other agent, violates the provisions of this chapter shall be subject to legal action for damages, to be brought by any other person claiming that a violation of this statute has injured his or her business, his or her person, or his or her reputation. A person so injured shall be entitled to actual damages, including mental pain and suffering endured by him or her on account of violation of the provisions of this chapter, or liquidated damages computed at the rate of one hundred dollars a day for each day of violation, not to exceed one thousand dollars, and a reasonable attorney’s fee and other costs of litigation.
      [2011 c 336 § 324; 1977 ex.s. c 363 § 2; 1967 ex.s. c 93 § 4.]

      Patrol officers should activate the body camera at the outset of each contact, whether or not the contact documents a significant incident, forms part of a criminal investigation or has any perceived evidentiary value to the officer. Unless an officer holds a legitimate belief that activating the body camera would be unsafe given the facts and circumstances, the body camera should be activated. If a safety issue has prevented activation of the body camera, the officer shall document the details in an incident report and report it to the shift supervisor. At no time should officers jeopardize their safety in order to activate a body camera. It is understood that rapidly evolving and complicated situations may delay camera activation due to incident priority. Documenting officers will describe this situation in their incident report; during the pilot body worn camera test phase no discipline will be administered for forgetting to activate the camera.

      Again note the word “Should” instead of “will”.

      Exactly what constitutes a “legitimate belief” and who decides whether or not the belief was actually legitimate?

      Once the “pilot body worn camera test phase” concludes exactly what discipline will be in place for “forgetting” to activate the camera?

      It should be recognized that not all contacts between officers and citizens need to be recorded. Certain interactions may be sensitive in nature and officers should use discretion in determining whether it is appropriate to record. Officers are encouraged to consult with their supervisor whether or not to activate body worn camera in sensitive situations.

      Is it therefore discretionary for officers to determine which interactions are “sensitive in nature”?

      Will a supervisor be riding along with officers to identify “sensitive situations”, or will all members of the SPD be trained extensively in the complex issues associated with the State’s very involved privacy laws?

      Once activated, the body camera system should remain on until the incident has concluded.
      Some situations may warrant de-activation of the camera; in these instances the officer must document in a written report the reason for the deactivation.

      Again the word “should” instead of “will”.

      Specifically what are “Some situations” which may warrant de-activation of the camera?

      My I please have your response a little fast than the AG’s opinion?

  4. Well, working with the ACLU is not quite the same as the content of Snyder’s claim:

    “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.”

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