FOR THE RECORD: (June 4, 1995): The U.S. Geological Survey’s maps are available in room 135 of the downtown Spokane Post Office, 904 W. Riverside. The location was listed incorrectly in Chris Peck’s column last Sunday.
Bought a stamp lately? The 32-cent transaction now takes place beneath the watchful gaze of a security guard at the downtown Spokane Post Office. If you want a topographic map from Spokane’s federal building for a weekend camping trip, remember this: A venture into the federal building now requires stopping at the door and giving up your Swiss Army knife.
There is a new buzzword in Spokane these days: security.
It’s the eight-letter word for fear.
The push for more security began as an unexpected side effect of thinking of ourselves as a bigger-city: A city with 22 identifiable gangs.
A city where reports of major crime rose 7 percent last year, as the nation’s major crime rate dropped 3 percent.
A city where the mentally ill congregate because of massive state deinstitutionalization efforts.
A city with the largest prison in the state of Washington.
A city where juvenile offenders must make reservations months in advance to spend a weekend in jail.
Now, in the wake of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, the rush to make Spokane more secure has accelerated to a stampede.
Card-only access to parking lots quickly went into the federal buildings.
Concrete barriers were dropped in front of the U.S. Court House.
The FBI offered security training to Intermountain Forest Industry Association staffers in Coeur d’Alene following the letter-bomb assassination of a forest industry lobbyist in California.
All of this has changed the feel of Spokane and the region.
It’s not as friendly, accessible, or casual as before.
The barriers designed to protect us from the worst, also restrain and restrict our community in ways that don’t seem to quite fit who we thought we were.
Mike Stultz noticed it right away.
Stultz moved to Spokane from California because he wanted a less hectic lifestyle and more time to hunt and fish.
In California he served as director of security for the Stanford University Hospital.
This spring in Spokane, he hired on as supervisor for security services for Sacred Heart Medical Center.
So far, he hasn’t had much time for hunting or fishing.
“I found out the time is way past for Spokane to get more serious about security,” he said a few days ago. “I didn’t expect to find what I saw here.” He saw weapons routinely showing up in the emergency room.
He saw unusually high numbers of mental patients on the streets and in the city’s public places.
He saw massive alcohol and drug abuse that often led to violence.
“And unfortunately, I see the problems getting worse before they get better,” Stultz said.
Sacred Heart already has begun a major redesign of its emergency room so it can quickly segregate any patients who arrive with weapons or who appear violent.
Deaconess Medical Center’s emergency room already has a metal detector.
But Stultz doesn’t advocate turning hospitals, or other Spokane buildings and institutions into fortresses.
It won’t work, he believes, and it isn’t the best thing for a community.
“There has to be a balance between making your institutions safe but open versus turning them into fortresses,” he said.
“In the hospitals, for example, you really want to maintain as open and as inviting a campus as you can because people feel more comfortable. If they are more comfortable they are less likely to act out under stress, or illness or injury.”
Instead of metal detectors, Stultz has suggested softer lights in the hospital, more earth tones in the emergency rooms and chairs that are too heavy to throw, but still comfortable to occupy.
Interestingly, a version of this philosophy is being embraced in neighborhoods as a way of coping with crime and security issues.
Law enforcement experts now understand that long-term security cannot be guaranteed simply by building walled communities in the suburbs and having everyone try to hide in them. The crime and violence just follow.
Instead, community security seems to depend more on having neighbors know one another and watch out for one another.
Of course cities still need ample, permanent places and programs for those who simply cannot function in an open society. A jail, a mental ward, a secure room in a hospital where an unstable person might be treated are essential to true security.
Unfortunately, Mike Stultz doesn’t see much hope for these cures in the near term.
“We seem to be moving toward a system where state government will be getting block grants and deciding where that money will be spent,” he said. “As a result, I think the people who shout the loudest will get the money. Those people shouting loudest won’t be the ones who have alcohol problems, or mental problems.”
Building a sense of shared purpose and realistically separating out dysfunctional people represent the best, long-term ways to establish safety and security.
Until we recognize this, Mike Stultz and other security directors likely will be busy putting in metal detectors and surveillance cameras.
, DataTimes MEMO: Chris Peck is the Editor of The Spokesman-Review. His column appears each Sunday on the Perspective page.
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