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Washington State News

Spokane Mayor: ‘Legislated Lawlessness’ to Blame for Recent Officer Shootings

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward, at work. Photo by Spokane City Government.

(The Center Square) – Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward blames “legislated lawlessness” for a second police officer being injured by gunfire this summer. She is calling on state officials to restore the tools that law enforcement agencies need to keep communities safe. 

“This lawlessness has to stop,” she said in a statement after the incident. “Legislation over the past two years has stepped us backwards and created an environment in our community among those who are committing crime that law enforcement lacks the ability to hold them accountable. Our officers hear it every day while patrolling our neighborhoods.

“It is time for those who make the laws to reestablish an expectation of law and order by bringing back the tools to hold people accountable. It’s what our officers and our community expect and deserve. We once again narrowly avoided serious injury or worse and this can’t continue.”

Woodward was specifically criticizing a package of police reform bills that state lawmakers passed in 2021. These regulations limit when officers can use force and engage in vehicular pursuits, among other changes.  

The mayor told The Center Square that keeping people safe is the number one responsibility of government. She said that task has become challenging during a time when crime rates in Spokane and other major cities have spiked dramatically.

She joins Police Chief Craig Meidl in the belief that criminals have become emboldened by state policies that have undermined police powers and led to the early release of many prisoners.

On Wednesday, an officer from the Spokane Police Department received a minor gunshot injury during a standoff of several hours with a robbery suspect who barricaded himself in a van. The male suspect was shot and killed by police in that incident east of downtown Spokane.

In June, another SPD officer suffered gunshot wounds to his head and upper leg while responding to multiple drive-by shootings in the city. He is recovering and two suspects, both convicted felons who were prohibited from lawfully possessing firearms, have been arrested for the crime. 

Woodward has established a Violent Crime Task Force to deal with the uptick in shootings and assaults. She has advocated for the city council to fund more police vehicles to ensure the fleet is operational at a time when officers need to be a visible presence on the streets.

It was gratifying this week, she said, to have the council finally approve the request by Meidl to order 46 more patrol vehicles in order to stay ahead of supply chain disruptions.

For budgetary purposes, she would have preferred the council grant the initial request by Councilors Jonathan Bingle and Michael Cathcart to use $3 million in American Rescue Plan funds to buy the vehicles. However, the council majority chose to pay for the 46 Ford K8 vehicles through the general fund and with unallocated reserves.

Woodward said using reserves and general fund dollars to upgrade the fleet depletes accounts to meet other needs that don’t qualify for ARP funds. 

Woodward said the federal dollars were authorized by Congress to help the community recover from economic losses tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, and for infrastructure and public safety and health needs. Spokane received $81 million as its ARP share, which she said allows the city to catch up on some immediate needs. 

Upgrading the aging police fleet was one good use for these dollars, said Woodward. 

However, she said there is still a ways to go before that task is done. Meidl maintains that SPD needs more than 200 new vehicles to ensure the fleet is operating at maximum efficiency.

Earlier this year, the council approved the purchase of 35 police vehicles with ARP funds.

Woodward has also asked the council for ARP funds to address another public safety matter.

She would like to see federal dollars used to cover the fire department’s uniform overtime costs, which are already $4.9 million in 2022, or 17.6% of total actual personnel costs. By comparison, budgeted overtime is 5.6% of total personnel costs. Overtime costs will top $7 million by the end of the year under the current rate of expenditure, said Woodward.

The problem has been created by a lack of manpower, something that has become a continuing issue in recent years, she said.

Woodward is also pushing for ARP dollars to replenish the city’s parking fund which could be in jeopardy by the end of this fiscal year. She said spendable reserves had been depleted to cover expenditures since the pandemic began in 2020 and people began to work at home and there were business shutdowns. Compounding the problem, she said, is that any reduction in service to compensate for the loss of about $850,000 could also result in a further reduction in revenue.

On yet another problematic financial front, Woodward said the city has slightly more than 8,000 customers with delinquent utility bills, leaving about $6.6 million in unpaid debt. Writing off that debt could run the city afoul of the state Constitution, which prohibits a government agency from gifting public funds, she said.

She said the revenue is necessary to cover expenditures tied to the provision of services, so she has asked the council for ARP compensation.

“It’s been really disappointing to hear only crickets,” she said of their response. 

While the council’s decision to invest ARP funds into community centers and public restrooms in parks is important, Woodward believes those projects get taken care of after basic needs are met. 

“We’re whittling away at the ARP funds really fast without addressing these operational needs, so that’s very concerning,” she said.