Spokane Police Officer Scott Lesser’s bad behavior made the news recently, and not for the first time. On Dec. 18, 2021, The Spokesman-Review reported that he and another officer provided false statements in a federal drugs case, leading the judge to dismiss the case and prompting Police Chief Craig Meidl to suspend the department’s Police Anti-Crime Team (PACT) and reassign Lesser and the other officers who made up PACT. It’s merely the latest in what seems to be an unofficial department policy of shuffling officers around rather than doling out appropriate discipline.

Officer Lesser is no stranger to this sort of departmental shuffling. He was assigned to PACT after his involvement in a violent arrest in 2019 that led to an internal investigation by Police Ombudsman Bart Logue. Since joining SPD in 2010, Officer Lesser has also been involved in two officer-involved shootings: one in 2016 that left a man with a bullet lodged near his spine, and a fatal shooting in 2013 that resulted in the city paying a $100,000 settlement to the victim’s family. Officer Lesser wasn’t disciplined in either incident, and the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office ruled that the 2016 shooting was justified.

Think Lesser’s a bad apple? Unfortunately, his track record is just one example of departmental shuffling that seems to be part of SPD’s standard operating procedure. Officers are frequently reassigned or given the equivalent of a wrist-slap rather than being appropriately disciplined when they perform their jobs in a way that endangers public safety.

Here’s another example: In October 2021, Officer Michael J. Brunner received a reduced sentence for driving 65 mph on a city street, crashing into a passenger vehicle, and injuring two people. He received a suspended jail term–meaning he’ll be on unmonitored probation for a year rather than serving time–and he’ll receive more than a year’s worth of backpay for the time he spent on administrative leave.

He, too, has been in trouble before. In 2018, Officer Brunner was disciplined for failing to interview a victim of  domestic violence following a fight outside a bar. And another officer who was disciplined in that incident, Officer Nathan Nash, was fired in 2019 and arrested on rape charges after he was accused of sexually assaulting a domestic violence victim during a follow-up interview regarding the victim’s case.

Though Nash was eventually fired from the Police Department, his arrest came after other concerns and complaints regarding his conduct–three documented incidents within the space of a year. Had Nash’s supervisors taken action sooner, perhaps these further abuses of power could have been prevented. Nash has yet to face trial and is currently free on bond.

In 2017, Officer Darrell Quarles was one of two officers involved in a fatal shooting in the Shadle Center parking lot. The Prosecutor’s Office ruled the shooting justified, saying the officers believed in “the correctness of their actions.” Quarles was previously disciplined in July 2013 for “unethical” behavior, was put on administrative leave pending an internal investigation in May 2013, and was given counseling and a letter of reprimand for two previous incidents dating back to 2009.

These examples point to a system-wide culture and policy of impunity within the Spokane Police Department; officers who harm the community are shuffled to other beats instead of disciplined or removed from service. Until forces at the top rethink their approach to officer discipline in the face of misconduct, there won’t be a change. Without change, we’re left with a dysfunctional police department that endangers public safety. Our current system of policing does not keep us safe. Spokane needs a robust, diversified public safety network that holds public servants accountable and helps build community safety for everyone.