Spokane police officer Percy Watkins was one of the first neighborhood resource officers assigned under the city’s community-oriented policing program.
In the past three years, he became something of a celebrity in northeast Spokane working around the schools, community center and the Northeast COPS station.
Now, he is leaving that job for another assignment in the police patrol division. He said he is going to work nights so he can take classes to earn a four-year college degree.
Also, the police department requires neighborhood officers to rotate to new assignments after four to five years on the job.
Neighbors weren’t about to let Watkins leave without a send off, so last week, they hosted a small potluck picnic at Hays Park for their favorite policeman.
“The kids are going to miss him,” said Nancy Shepherd, a teaching assistant at Shaw Middle School.
Watkins, an eight-year veteran of the force, is widely credited for helping define the role of community-oriented policing, said Bill Dillon, director of the Northeast Community Center.
“He is the kind of figure people could rally around,” Dillon said.
Watkins did so with a quiet demeanor. “Percy’s a man of few words,” Dillon said.
Apparently, that’s the case. He declined to answer questions from a news reporter last Thursday at the potluck. He said department policy prohibits officers from giving interviews without clearance from the chief or the department’s public information spokesman.
At the potluck, Dillon said in an interview that the department’s regimentation can hamper effective community dialogue.
Watkins later granted an interview at the Northeast COPS station, with his sergeant and the department’s public information officer at his side.
Police information officer Dick Cottam said the department has no policy prohibiting interviews, but leaves that to the officer’s discretion.
Watkins will be replaced by officer Larry House, who had been assigned to tracking down truant school kids.
Watkins said neighborhood crime-fighting is largely responsible for a reduction of thefts and vandalism as well as violent crimes in northeast Spokane.
As the neighborhood officer, he said one of his top priorities was encouraging young teenagers to avoid the pitfalls of gangs, drugs and violence.