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Spokane to hold formal talks on police reform, but no policy action yet

City leaders offered a list of principles to guide conversation on racial justice.

SPOKANE, Wash — Spokane's mayor, police chief, and select city council members held a press conference on Thursday to declare their intention to hold formalized talks on the issues surrounding police reform.

However, those waiting for speedy, concrete action will have to continue waiting a while longer, as no specific policies were addressed.

Instead, a wide variety of stakeholders will be brought into meetings run by a professional facilitator to hash out possible solutions. As agreements are reached, those discussions may piece by piece become legislation.

Thousands of protesters have marched through the streets of Spokane over the past few months, calling for changes to the way policing works in the city. Demands ranged from more accountability and oversight to reducing police funding and investing that money elsewhere in the community.

The city's leaders say they're listening.

"It's no longer enough to not be contributing to the problem," said Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs. "It's important to be anti-racist, anti-biased, and move things forward systemically."

But for now, listening is as far as they'll go. They say more productive conversations with a greater number of parties are required to decide what action should be taken.

"With a facilitator we'll sit down and we'll just go through all of these things and do some deep listening instead of talking past each other," said Beggs.

"Working in unity, not hashing and battling this issue out in public," said Mayor Nadine Woodward.

They say the difference between these talks and the dialogue that's already been happening citywide is getting everyone together in the same room, rather than a disjointed series of smaller meetings.

In addition, they offered up a list of basic philosophies to guide the talks.

"There are two dozen that we agreed to that set the ground rules for how we're going to have some honest and some, quite frankly tough, discussions," said Woodward.

"This is not substantive other than to say these are the ways we want to talk about it," Beggs said of the list.

There's no timeline on when the talks could result in real policy. However, Beggs said they'll be conducted with urgency, and that rather than waiting for one omnibus reform package to be worked out, when areas of agreement are reached "we will start pursuing implementation right away on those."

When contacted by KREM, President of the Spokane NAACP Kurtis Robinson responded to the press conference in a statement.

"I believe this shows great opportunity and has much promise. Since we were not a part of the conversation, our organization looks forward to being consulted on this and participating on behalf of our communities of color," he wrote.

"I can say for sure that in the spaces of statements leading to meaningful, equitable, and accountable outcomes for our impacted BIPOC, we have definitely seen an historic shortfall and much disparity in Eastern Washington. This has become especially evident under COVID-19 and George Floyd and we look forward to what may hopefully be some humanizing, meaningful, and sustained outcomes as such this proposal can manifest if done right."

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