- Associated Press - Friday, December 19, 2014

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Spokane police officers do not routinely and deliberately engage in the use of excessive force, and there is no pattern of using force more often against minorities, according to a U.S. Justice Department report released Friday.

But federal authorities issued 42 recommendations for improving the Spokane Police Department’s use-of-force policies and procedures.

The recommendations were the result of a voluntary 11-month assessment of the department that arose from the 2006 death of a developmentally disabled man at the hands of police.

The recommendations include improving the reporting of use-of-force incidents by officers, improving training for officers who are promoted to the rank of sergeant and above, refining the system that provides early warning of problem officers, identifying training deficiencies within the department, formalizing the role of the police ombudsman’s office, and continuing community outreach.

The review was sparked by the death of Otto Zehm, 36, who was violently subdued by officers in a convenience store after he was wrongly suspected of trying to rob an ATM. Police Officer Karl Thompson was eventually convicted in federal court of using excessive force and attempting to conceal evidence in Zehm’s death.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Thompson’s appeal of his conviction. Thompson has about two years left on a four-year sentence that he’s serving at a low-security facility in Arizona.

“Mr. Zehm did not lose his life in vain,” Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub said at a news conference Friday, vowing to implement the 42 recommendations.

Fifteen people have died at the hands of Spokane police since 2006, but Thompson was the only officer convicted of a crime in those cases.

Breean Beggs, who represented Zehm’s family in a lawsuit against the city, was satisfied with the report, especially a provision for regular status updates to the Justice Department.

“The proof will be in how well the recommendations are implemented,” Beggs said.

Spokane is only the second police department to undergo this sort of review, following a 2011 investigation of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the Justice Department said.

But Ronald Davis, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, said similar reviews are now underway for various reasons, including race, in Philadelphia; San Diego; St. Louis County, Missouri; and Fayetteville, North Carolina.

“There is a lack of trust between communities and police, especially communities of color,” Davis said.

This review found no pattern of use of force against racial minorities in Spokane, which has an overwhelmingly white population.

Spokane’s federal review was voluntary, and not the full “pattern and practice” investigation that was conducted in Seattle in 2012 by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

The report recommended:

- Consistent reporting of use-of-force incidents using standard software.

- Studying the patterns and behaviors of officers who repeatedly use force.

- Examining policies and training for use of chokeholds, and requiring a deadly force review when they are used.

- Speeding up investigations of officer-involved homicides.

- Creating an advisory council for the police chief to get public input.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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