Spokane and its one-term mayors: It's a punch line we love to repeat, but it's not that funny anymore. Recent events have shown there's a reason for our one-term-itis — Spokane mayors live and die by their relationship with the Spokane Police Department.
Now David Condon is feeling it. When the Police Lieutenants and Captains Association sent a letter complaining about their boss, Chief Frank Straub, Condon quickly secured his resignation. Did Condon, fearing for his re-election, shy from a fight? Was Straub really that bad? We don't have answers; there's way too much secrecy surrounding this episode. Meanwhile, Condon has taken a major political hit.
And the timing of that letter, just weeks before the election, was political. Our police unions seem to have become part political action committee.
Ironically, Condon probably won that election because cops soured on Mary Verner. Four years ago, right about now, the SPD was suddenly being quoted on every newscast about how Verner's budget would cut property crime investigations. Again, odd timing — especially for a decision that was made with the police's blessing six months before. Condon pounced with powerful talking points, and the one-term curse continued.
And the political activism goes back even further. Alan Chertok, who made a lot of dumb mistakes on his own, was fired as police chief when officers started to formally complain. While some thought the charges were petty, City Manager Bill Pupo, in a panic, cut him loose after nine months. Chief Anne Kirkpatrick got a mysterious vote of no confidence from the Police Guild — mysterious because they never revealed the voting tallies. She tried to dole out swift justice to wayward cops, but was stymied at every turn.
Chertok, Kirkpatrick and Straub were all outsiders brought in to improve our local department. "Morale" — a repeated, vague complaint — is often pegged at "an all-time low" when out-of-towners are in charge.
So if you're a police union leader, it's hard not to conclude that if you don't like your bosses — either the mayor or the chief of police — you can probably get them fired.
This arrangement is not working for the citizens, their elected leaders or the Spokane Police Department. Otto Zehm was killed a decade ago next March, and what we've had since is a revolving door of mayors and police chiefs. Thanks to Straub and Condon, some lasting reforms have been enacted, but between Straub's exit and our farce of an ombudsman process, Condon's plans — Spokane's plans — are in ruins. It falls to the next mayor to effectively engage the community and the police department to figure out how to break this ugly cycle. ♦