Thursday, December 13, 2012

Chief of Change

By Jacob James from the Inlander:

It would seem to take a strange kind of masochist to want to assume responsibility for the Spokane Police Department.

Considered misunderstood at best and dangerous at worst, the Lilac City’s police force remains plagued by widespread public cynicism, ongoing legal entanglements and a fractured sense of purpose.

Who would be crazy enough to take on this mess?

With three brass stars on his collar and a two-month-old badge over his heart, Frank Straub can at first glance appear surly, a bit unenthusiastic. He is not an overly animated public cheerleader, wearing his passion on his sleeve. He asks engaged questions, but rarely smiles. He speaks at a deliberate, analytical pace.

Hardly unpacked in his new city, Straub brings with him broad experience in regional and federal law enforcement. He carries the title “doctor” from a Ph.D. in criminal justice. He also carries a loaded .40-caliber Glock on his hip.

Perhaps surprisingly, considering the task ahead of him, he seems of sound mind.

But before Straub could even take his oath, two potential allies — Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and the Spokane Police Guild — had already questioned his selection as chief. City officials had eyed cuts to his budget and staffing. Union negotiations had stalled for nearly a year, and the sticky issue of marijuana legalization had gone to voters. Above all, crime rates had continued to spike within a community long estranged from its police force.

Straub took the job anyway.

On this recent afternoon, Straub has called together more than a dozen local mental health experts to discuss cross-agency partnerships. Around the conference table, he asks for their support and expertise, promising them reform in return. Hospital directors, nonprofit leaders and psychiatry professors nod along with his suggestions.

“All I hear is the department sucks at helping the homeless or the mentally ill,” Straub tells the group. “I know we don’t suck. … We need to figure this out collectively because it’s better for all of us.”

They nod again. Not one questions his sanity.

Straub knows he still has much to prove to his own officers and the city they serve. Many local leaders, weary of in-fighting and perceived institutional incompetence, have high hopes for his administration. But they also have little tolerance left for failure.

Revealing a hidden optimist, Straub says he sees only opportunity. He sees officers too long held back from the work they love. He sees a police department too long distracted by politics and tragedy. He sees a city too long divided. But, beyond that, despite its bitter and broken history, he sees a community yearning for a new direction.

“We need to change the story,” he says.

Full article can be found here.

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