SPOKANE, WA – Two weeks shy of three years on the job, Frank Struab, Mayor David Condon’s handpicked candidate to serve as Spokane chief of police, is resigning in the face of mounting criticism.
The coup de grace on Straub’s tenure was fired by his own command staff, which, in a report signed by Assistant Chiefs Rick Dobrow and Selby Smith, focused on his leadership style and a series of shortcomings which included:
- Unreasonable emotional outbursts
- Personal attacks
- Threats regarding employment and position
- Scare tactics
- Degradation of character
- Demeaning, condescending treatment
- Profane and highly inappropriate language
Prior to the command staff’s letter, the Police Captains and Lieutenants Association also complained about the chief’s abrasive leadership which allegedly included profanity-laced screaming at subordinates.
Additionally, the recent departure of the department’s public information officer, Monique Cotton, is related to the chief’s abrasive leadership style, according to KXLY sources.
Cotton transferred from the police department to the city’s parks department earlier this year.
The city issued a more antiseptic version of events, stating that Straub is leaving “to pursue new opportunities and be closer to family.” His last day of city employment will be January 1, 2016 and until then he will serve in the City Attorney’s office. Assistant Chief Rick Dobrow will serve as interim chief.
“Re-engineering a police department is difficult work,” Condon said in a written statement. “We appreciate very much Frank’s service and the work he’s done to help us get to this point. He gave us great momentum to build from as a law enforcement organization, city and community and we remain committed to the efforts he led.”
“The Spokane Police Division, under Frank Straub, has done a tremendous job serving the community,” City Council president Ben Stuckart said in a written statement. “We stand behind our officers and their commitment to Spokane.”
During his tenure, Straub endured a revolving door among his command staff; he has gone through several assistant chiefs, including former acting Chief Scott Stephens, who resigned from the force after his demotion from the position, and Capt. Craig Meidl, who resigned his position in early 2014 and later took on the role of running the department’s Hillyard Police Precinct. He also restructured the rank system of the department, which resulted in a number of demotions of high-ranking officers.
Two weeks after Meidl’s resignation Straub promoted Dobrow, the captain in charge of Professional Oversight and training, to assistant chief, and brought in Selby Smith, a 23-year DEA veteran, to head the investigative division.
Despite mounting criticism over his leadership style, Straub is credited with bringing a number of sweeping changes to the force, including the introduction of body cameras, establishing police precincts downtown, on the South Hill and in Hillyard to improve response times and relations with the community, introduced the Youth Police Activity League, which helped bridge the gap between at-risk youth and police officers, and welcomed the Department of Justice review of the force’s training and policies in the wake of the Otto Zehm death investigation and added critical incident training for all officers so they recognize the signs of someone experiencing a mental health crisis.
“I am very proud of the work that has been done to re-engage the Spokane Police Division with the community and drive down crime,” Straub said in the written statement issued by the City of Spokane . “We have achieved great things and brought policing in Spokane closer to the community. Rather than engage in a public discussion that distracts from making Spokane safer I have told the Mayor that it is time for new energy and perspective.”
Straub’s salary in 2014 was $177,000, making him the second-highest paid city employee behind Spokane Fire Chief Bobby Williams. He also has the shortest tenure among recent chiefs of police in Spokane. Anne Kirkpatrick served as chief from 2006 through 2012 and Roger Bragdon, the last chief to come from within the department, spent more than three decades on the force, including six years as chief from 2000 through his retirement in 2006.
Straub came to Spokane under a cloud of controversy, both within his last posting in Indianapolis as well as during the selection process for a new Spokane police chief.
In April 2012 he resigned from his position as Director of Public Safety for the City of Indianapolis in advance of a potential no confidence vote after embattled Indianapolis Police Chief Paul Ciesielski’s resignation and friction with the Fraternal Order of Police over a $30 million budget shortfall.
Several months later, when Straub was one of three finalists for the police chief position, and in fact had been personally recruited by Condon, a panel of law enforcement officials from a variety of federal, tribal, county and city law enforcement agencies found the two leading candidates – Straub and Daniel Mahoney of the San Francisco Police Department – were not right for the job, but Mayor Condon pressed forward with the process and Straub was eventually tapped to serve as Spokane’s chief of police.
Now, approximately two weeks shy of Straub’s three year anniversary, Condon, who is running for re-election, is facing the prospect of adding ‘Hire a new police chief’ to his ‘To Do’ list if re-elected in November.