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Spokane's Outreach Strategies at the Forefront of Community Policing Efforts

Spokane's Outreach Strategies at the Forefront of Community Policing Efforts

Photo courtesy of Rilee Yandt.

Community-oriented policing is not a novel idea, but a number of events over the past few years have inspired a renewed emphasis on developing innovative and effective initiatives that promote crime reduction while also building trust between police officers and their communities. If your jurisdiction is looking for some fresh ideas, a great place to start is the Spokane Police Department’s 2015 Community Outreach Strategy. Encompassing both tried and true programs along with some new initiatives, it is one of the most comprehensive and well-documented community policing strategies available. In fact, Spokane’s efforts are so compelling  that representatives from the city were invited to speak as part of a National Community Policing Forum hosted at the White House in July. (You can watch Mayor Condon and former Chief Straub highlighting some of the city’s efforts in the online recording of the forum.)

A Comprehensive Plan

Spokane’s 2015 Community Outreach Strategy is the distillation of nearly a decade of conversations and efforts. Tension between the police and the community ramped up in 2006 after a tragic incident between a police officer and a citizen, and improving that relationship was a major topic when Condon was elected in 2011. In 2012 the city started a voluntary two-year review with the Department of Justice (DOJ), which culminated in a Collaborative Reform Model Report in 2014. The DOJ’s recommendations provided some useful guidance for moving forward.

As outlined in the 26-page strategy, Spokane is working on all fronts to strengthen the bonds between the department and citizens. The strategy is founded on comprehensive public engagement, with the department working hard to identify and partner with all of Spokane’s diverse communities – the homeless population, the LGBTQ community, and refugee communities, among others. Spokane also focuses on a more holistic approach to policing as part of the Chronic Offenders Unit, which helps individuals get access to services and support and prevents them from re-offending by engaging their family members and associates. Transparency is another priority, with Spokane’s Office of Police Accountability aiming to “make more information available on their website than any other law enforcement agency in the state of Washington.”

The Youth and Police Initiative (YPI) is a nationally recognized program designed to break the cycle of distrust between youth and officers.

Focusing on Youth

A core strength of Spokane’s community policing efforts is in youth engagement. When former Chief Straub joined the force in 2013, he started the Youth and Police Initiative, which has since been recognized both nationally and locally. Monthly events bring officers and teens together for “rapport-building activities” that help break down stereotypes on both sides. Another effort is the Police Activities League, which hosts basketball games and other fun activities for at-risk youth during the summer as a way to provide positive experiences and reduce drug and gang involvement. The program was so successful in its first two years that it was expanded in 2015. In April, Spokane also piloted the Restore Our Kids program, providing an alternative to suspension, in which high school students are referred by school staff to attend a two-day course, allowing them to stay in school.

Policing and Body Cameras

Spokane’s community policing efforts are also apparent in their approach to body cameras, one of the most hotly debated topics in policing today. In 2014 alone, the department gave 70 presentations to community groups to discuss the use of body cameras. As part of its pilot program, the department is engaged in a research project with Arizona State University aimed at developing an evidence-based plan for the use of cameras. As the outreach strategy states, the project will put Spokane, “at the center of the dialogue on police body-worn cameras as the technology transforms policing in the 21st century.”

Spokane’s Community Outreach efforts have garnered national attention because they align well with the White House. In May, President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing released a report that outlined six pillars of policing that are crucial for both reducing crime and increasing trust and legitimacy. Since Spokane’s work addresses each of the pillars, it was asked to join the task force’s follow-up event, a national forum on community policing at the White House. As one of just 30 jurisdictions from across the nation to share their work, Spokane was able to highlight how its outreach efforts address each of the six pillars (see their handout from the presentation).

Additional Resources

For More Information

Lieutenant Tracie Meidl
Community, Youth, and Intervention Services

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Photo of Josh Mahar

About Josh Mahar

Josh served as a Communications and Outreach Coordinator for MRSC and wrote about social media, government performance, and other local government topics. He no longer works for MRSC.