SPOKANE, Wash. — During a Wednesday press conference centered on addressing racial disparity in policing, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich defended a controversial training from the founder of "Killology Research Group."
Petitions to cancel the "Mindset Bootcamp" from retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman have garnered thousands of signatures since early June. The training is a course for law enforcement officers that includes lessons about how they should deal with officer-involved killings.
Last week, protesters opposed to the training began a march at Spokane City Hall before making their way to the Spokane County Courthouse. Many of the speakers also called on the sheriff's office to cancel the training.
The training has currently been suspended but a community town hall is expected before it could be canceled.
Members of the Spokane NAACP and Knezovich attended the press conference on Wednesday to update stakeholders on an agreement the organizations reached in 2019 to conduct a cultural inventory of the sheriff's office, among other initiatives.
In response to questions about the recent opposition to Grossman's seminar, Knezovich said the training is focused on the fact that "killing is the most destructive aspect of our society."
"Killing is the thing that should be avoided at all cost. However, you all send us out to do a very difficult job and there are some people that push that and threaten your lives and our lives," he said.
Knezovich also slammed activists opposed to the training, calling them "a group of progressive socialist that have decided that this training is not what it is."
"They’re actually promoting a lie about the training," he said.
Kurtis Robinson, who serves as president of the Spokane NAACP, said Knezovich has agreed to suspend the training until dialogue is able to take place. Spokane NAACP Vice President Kiantha Duncan added that the organization continues to voice its concerns about the seminar and work with the sheriff's office on how to address them.
“It’s not just progressive liberals that are concerned about Killology, it’s really anyone who cares about the health of other people. Many people are concerned about this," Duncan said.
The Spokane NAACP and other local organizations requested a cultural audit of the sheriff's office in 2019 after former Spokane County Sheriff's Deputy Jeff Thurman was fired for allegedly making comments about killing minorities to a colleague.
The process of picking out "a mutually agreed upon, generally unbiased, neutral entity" to conduct the cultural inventory of the sheriff's department will begin immediately, according to a combined press release from the sheriff's office and the NAACP.
From there, the sheriff's office and the NAACP will work together on two follow-up initiatives:
- Develop a race equity strategic plan; implemented in a long-term sustainable fasion
- Generate a commission report on stops, arrests, and use of force that includes a breakdown by race, gender and areas/districts
"The reason we are doing this is to answer the question of why this is happening," Knezovich said. "If it's something that we're doing internally, that has to be fixed."
A data report requested by Robinson in the fall of 2019 and analyzed by Eastern Washington University professor Dr. Ed Byrnes in December 2019 and January 2020 shows Black people and Native Americans are often arrested disproportionately in Spokane County.
Black people make up 1.4% of Spokane County's population, but make up 6.6% of arrests made by the sheriff's office, according to the report. Native Americans make up 1.4% of the population as well, but make up 2.9% of arrests.
“Based on the data compiled to date, there is a racial disparity concerning the arrests of African Americans and Native Americans. It is important to acknowledge this fact and, more importantly, identify what is driving these disparities," Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said. "With this knowledge, we can identify solutions to an issue our community has faced for many years.”