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police

Officer John Gately, the new guild president, says of recent controversies: “This past five years has been something that I’ve never seen before.”

Backing Blue

The new Spokane Police Guild president works to redefine the troubled union BY JACOB JONES

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he Spokane Police Guild has long stood loyal behind the city’s finest, backing beat cops and crack detectives, but in recent years the union has also found itself defending the troublemakers, lawbreakers and liars among its ranks. Amid scandal and repeated officer misconduct — amplified by the beating and in-custody death of Otto Zehm in 2006 — the Spokane Police Department has spent the past several years under nearly constant fire. Spokane Officer John Gately, a decorated 22-year veteran of the department, says bitter internal politics and budget battles also split the agency, sometimes putting street officers at odds with administrators, city officials and citizens. “This past five years has been something that I’ve never seen before,” Gately says. “It just kind of all came together and it crashed.” In many eyes, the police guild has come to symbolize the department’s problems, stirring accusations of cronyism, dysfunction and entrenchment. Some critics have even likened the union to the mafia. Sworn in as the new guild president on March 27, Gately hopes to redefine the guild’s image, clarify its

mission and reconnect with the community it serves. He wants to remind the city of the good work police officers do every day. For the first time in a while, he feels like Spokane could be ready for it. City officials have started a new conversation about public safety, new funding has gone to department equipment and a new police chief has provided much-needed leadership and cooperation. “It’s nice to have a direction to move forward,” Gately says.

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nion leaders say the Spokane Police Guild first formed in the early 1970s. It now represents about 260 rank-and-file officers throughout the department. Gately says he is proud to work alongside the men and women who help protect Spokane. He describes a dedicated and hardworking local police force. “We have great people that work within the department,” he says. “We have officers that come out here and sometimes work to their own detriment. Calls just keep stacking up, and guys just keep taking them.” Gately, 47, previously served as guild vice president after being appointed to the position in 2010. He now

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takes over for Detective Ernie Wuthrich, who served as president for six years amid the height of the department’s recent issues. Wuthrich praised Gately’s longtime work with the labor union, his involvement in the department’s peer support program and his proven team management skills. “He’s got a well-rounded experience,” Wuthrich says. “I think he’ll do a good job. … Hopefully, he’ll have an easier go of it than I did.” Gately recently received the department’s Distinguished Service Award for his leadership on the Tactical Team, managing staffing and strategy for large public events. He has also served as a hostage negotiator and public information officer for several years. “People trust him,” Wuthrich says. “He’s got a good rapport with people.” Send comments to As president, Gately says he editor@inlander.com. intends to push new community involvement efforts. He wants officers helping out in their neighborhoods. He says the union recently sent officers to volunteer with the Spokane Guilds School’s penny drive and donated to the Cheney Pee Wee Rodeo. They continue to look for other programs to support. But like any union, Gately says the guild’s primary mission is to improve working conditions and benefits for its officers. It must also protect members from questionable disciplinary actions. “I don’t know if there’s a true understanding of what the guild’s role is,” he explains. “It’s a misconception of what a union is there for.” ...continued on next page

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