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Public Service By And For The People

Pop into the tidy COPS Northeast building in Hillyard and you’ll be overwhelmed by energy. Even the coffee’s perky. And some amazing people scurry about. You’ll meet Betty, who cleans and mends loved-up stuffed animals. Police officers then give them to children terrified in accidents or domestic violence situations.

The substation sponsored a DARE rally this year; 1,000 people showed up. Volunteers recognize, with a $100 award, the “super kids” in their neighborhoods. They paint over graffiti and know what numbers and names to give people who need police or community services. Dozens of volunteers keep the station humming.

If you think the community policing movement is about men and women imitating cops, you’ve never visited. The substations are not only protecting neighborhoods, they are uniting neighbors, the way they once were before people got too busy, too paranoid, too bitter to care about those they live around.

There are now seven substations in Spokane; four more will open soon. In 1994, Spokane COPS substations handled 5,225 incident reports, involved youth volunteers in 1,300 projects and facilitated 93 different neighborhood programs. Plus, several other neighborhoods participate in the observation patrol program. Steve Elixman, who patrols his North Central neighborhood and has put in 800 volunteer hours since March, said: “To watch all the people in your neighborhood come together is wonderful. I spend my own money, buy my own gas, but the effort is worth it in the long run if I can help (better) one life.”

Spokane COPS recently won the prestigious National League of Cities 1995 Innovation Award for rethinking public safety. Even before the award, visitors from near and far studied Spokane’s program. The Spokane County Sheriff’s Department now has a similar program and Stevens County is getting one off the ground. Cheryl Steele, program coordinator, has explained Spokane COPS to officials from Australia, Japan and South Africa.

More than 2,000 volunteers work the substations. More are always needed. “My goal is to make sure each and every citizen who shows interest can participate,” Steele said.

Call 625-3300 to find the substation nearest you. Drop in. Check it out. If you like what you see, get involved. It may renew your zest for life. And the neighborhood you help save will be your own.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Rebecca Nappi/For the editorial board