Along West First, A Neighborhood Emerges Police Crackdown, Citizen Involvement Bring Area Back To Life
Drug dealers and buyers used to stand around in Spokane’s West First neighborhood like trees in a park.
Pimps and prostitutes hustled, and residents were afraid to leave their homes for fear of physical and verbal attacks.
“Men would approach elderly and disabled women and ask them to be prostitutes,” said Julia Rahmaam, who lives in The Parsons apartment building.
But since police cracked down after a series of gang-related shootings last July, crime has decreased significantly. Residents and shopkeepers aren’t looking over their shoulders as much.
“I definitely feel better about things over here,” said longtime resident Patrick McEvoy. “You can walk around now and not get bothered.
“I haven’t had a prostitute approach me, and only once since they ran those guys out of here has anyone asked me if I wanted to buy crack,” McEvoy said.
Before the crackdown, Rahmaam never ventured out of her home after 3 p.m. She is disabled and walks with the help of a cane.
“I’m an older woman, so I don’t care where I am, there are just some hours I don’t belong on the street,” she said. “But I do feel much more comfortable in knowing that if an emergency comes up and I have to leave my apartment later in the day, I won’t have to deal with all of the crap that used to be there.”
Statistics echo the residents’ newfound sense of security.
From November 1995 through January 1996, the Police Department received 402 calls for assistance in the neighborhood.
During the same period in 1996-97, police received 239 aid calls, a 41 percent drop.
Assaults declined 47 percent, from 19 to 10, and the number of street fights plunged from 17 to four.
Police concede beefed-up patrols have flushed many of the thugs to East Sprague, forcing the department to order more patrols there.
Many West First residents are elderly or poor, or both. That made it easier for drug dealers to move in and set up business on the streets.
Officer Rick Albin said the neighborhood can’t rely on police to solve all its problems.
“We can’t be an occupying force,” said Albin, who works out of the police substation at 1201 W. First. “It’s companies and communities citywide who will have to make a difference.”
Among those getting involved is state correctional officer Dick Isakson, who is reaching out to at-risk West First youth and trying to help them either get off or stay off the streets.
Jim Osburn, an Eastern Washington University student, is working with businesses and city officials to come up with ways to attract new West First businesses.
Some existing ones are not only staying - they’re growing.
Dale DuPree, president of The Pella Window Store at 152 S. Jefferson, decided this week to expand into a vacant building across the street.
“This community has been good to us. We need to give back to those who have given us sustenance,” DuPree said.
Fugazzi Bakery & Cafe owners Joe and Mary Dinnison are moving their bakery from Sprague and Post to the Arts Building at 123 S. Madison.
The Dinnisons, who own the now-vacant Arts Building, hope to attract retail tenants.
DuPree said the Dinnisons’ decision played a role in Pella deciding to stay.
In the 1200 block of West Riverside, Ron and Julie Wells, two long-time urban revitalization advocates, have started a $3 million project to build townhouses.
The Wellses already have financial commitments from people who want to live in the townhouses.
At the moment, pedestrian traffic through West First is light, and that’s the way a lot of people like it.
“It’s kind of funny,” DuPree said. “As a business owner, you don’t want it to be too quiet, but at the same time, the people who were making the noise weren’t doing anybody any good.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo Graphic: West First crime