Use of Force Commission urges upgraded police instructor training

January 4, 2013 - Updated: January 5, 3:07 p.m.

As the Spokane Police Department starts its makeover, one of the top suggestions by the city’s Use of Force Commission is for police officials to upgrade the training of officers who instruct other officers.

The extensive review of the department’s policies and procedures found that no Spokane police officers have received instructor recertification since 2007.

“These are your lead trainers for the department … for both tactics and use of force. It’s important that they are up to date on new tactics and delivery systems and legal rules that govern the use of those tactics,” said Earl “Marty” Martin, who chaired the commission.

Police Chief Frank Straub said all the department’s instructors are certified, but none has obtained the highest level, that of master instructor.

“Our intention is to get everybody certified up to the level that they should be,” Straub said. “We will also review whether … the current people are the right people. That’s all part of the process going forward.”

Martin said he learned during the review that recertification had fallen by the wayside as a result of budget cuts.

Straub said he’s somewhat dependent on the state, which requires that training to be done in Washington. However, he said it’s his understanding that the state hasn’t offered the master instructor class for a couple years.

The training is a critical part of the overall review of the department, which Martin and the Use of Force Commission delivered Dec. 20 to Mayor David Condon.

That review was delayed at least in part because of a mistake by police brass. Martin said when the commission asked for supporting materials, the department gave it an outdated defensive tactics manual, which contained flawed directives on when it’s OK for officers to use deadly force.

The expert hired to review those policies, Mildred O’Linn, didn’t know she was critiquing an outdated manual until late September.

“That course material was critical to her work. It’s like the training bible,” Martin said. “It’s one of the reasons we had a delay.”

The old manual advised officers they were free to use deadly force whenever they believed their lives or the lives of others were in danger.

The commission, which included lawyers and a retired state Supreme Court justice, concluded that subjective standard had no basis in state or federal law. The proper legal standard requires an officer to have an objectively reasonable justification to use lethal force.

As a result, O’Linn had to reconsider many of her earlier conclusions, Martin said.

“We were also concerned that we had people talking to us without appearing to understand that it was out of date,” Martin said. “It was a mixup. An appropriate apology was made and we moved on.”

Hearings, comments

The city’s Use of Force Commission will hold two public hearings to receive comments on its report: Jan. 14 from 2-4 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall, and Jan. 30 from 2-4 p.m. at the Northeast Community Center, at 4001 N. Cook St. Comments may be submitted to useofforce@spokanecity.org.

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