Frank Straub, the former public safety director for Indianapolis, is introduced as the choice to be Spokane’s next police chief.
by Tim Connor
The man who will lead the Spokane Police Department into what is likely to be the most important chapter in its history is Frank Straub.
“I was looking for innovation, broad experience, and a desire to become part of our community, and I found that in Frank Straub,” said Mayor David Condon, in explaining why he chose the 53-year-old former Director of Public Safety in Indianapolis. “This was an intense process and a difficult decision, but we have selected a strong leader who will help our department grow and evolve into the future.”
The other remaining finalist for the position, San Francisco Police Department commanding officer Daniel Mahoney, was informed yesterday by Condon that Straub would be the Mayor’s choice.
The selection came at the end of what was clearly an intensive and frustrating process for Condon who’d first extended the application deadline for the position and then took an active role in recruiting Straub and other candidates. He later endured some pointed criticism from Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, and others, that the three finalists for the position (which, for a time, included George Markert, a former deputy chief in Rochester, New York) didn’t have experience running a police department.
In fielding questions this afternoon, the normally good-natured Condon seemed just a bit testy and defensive in responding to media questions that referenced concerns about Straub’s qualifications.
But if Straub was rattled, he didn’t show it. Just as he had done in a public interview in Spokane a month ago, Straub kept his poise, didn’t rush his answers, and communicated a quiet self-confidence. He referred often to his past experience, which includes nine years with the U.S. Department of Justice’s inspector general’s office, and leadership positions with the New York Police Department and the police department of White Plains, NY. Straub has a doctorate in Criminal Justice and a master’s degree in forensic psychology.
In his opening remarks, Straub had this to say:
“As one of my district commanders in Indianapolis said, policing is a noble profession, therefore we owe it to each and every police officer and the community we serve to be the best we can be, to be legitimate in our actions, to maintain and build the community’s trust and confidence, to maintain the peace and ensure the highest quality of life for each and every member of our community.”
The physical set up for the event—on a second floor outdoor terrace—symbolized the weight of the announcement. In the shade, against the north face of the building, Condon spoke flanked by more than a dozen top city officials. Facing them, in the piercing sunshine, was a solid, thirty-foot-long wall of reporters and camera operators.
Straub and Condon answered reporters’ questions for over an hour, and touched on most facets of the police trust and credibility problems that Straub faces in light of the Otto Zehm case and the conviction of police officer Karl Thompson last fall.
A reporter asked him what challenge most concerns him.
“I think what we have to do is get the police department and the community back together again,” Straub said. “When challenging things happen in the community, and I had them in Indianapolis, and I had them in White Plains (New York), and certainly at NYPD, sometimes we talk at each other, we don’t talk to each other; and I think that’s one of the things we have to start doing quickly and we have to do better.”
If there was a surprise this afternoon it came from the Mayor. As he talked about progress on police reform, Condon made a brief reference to the public and city council concern over civilian police oversight, a controversy that exploded last week when the Mayor caught the public and even the city council by surprise in reporting that the term of police Ombudsman Tim Burns wouldn’t be extended. The Mayor quickly responded to the controversy by extending Burns’s employment through the end of the year. But the flare-up highlighted the fact that the Mayor still hasn’t announced what his plan is for police oversight, and his statements today just underscored the ominous fact that Burns is being dismissed with no plan for succession (and for regaining investigative independence for the office) on the table—at least not publicly.
Condon said that it would be a large part of Straub’s immediate duties to help him come up with such a plan. While acknowledging the city council should play a role in devising it, Condon said, “I think it’s incumbent upon the Mayor to have a proposal so that we can start somewhere and start those deliberations, probably next spring.”
Straub, when asked, declined to comment on the Mayor’s decision not to renew Burns’s contract for another three years.
Straub was flanked at the announcement by the SPD leadership team, including interim chief Scott Stephens. Stephens, when asked, seemed genuinely upbeat about Straub’s selection and said he was eager to work with him.
When asked by a reporter whether his lack of experience as a police chief would hurt his credibility with the SPD rank and file, Straub had a ready answer. He compared it to a young person showing up wanting to play basketball with a group of seasoned players.
“And they’re like, ‘okay, does this guy have game or doesn’t he have game?’” he said. “You’ve got to prove that you can put the ball in the basket, right? And up until that point there’s this whole testing process going on. Once you start putting the ball in the basket, everybody kind of gets it. That’s what happens when you come to a new city and take on a new job.”
Straub’s selection will have to be confirmed by the City Council with the vote expected some time next month.