The proof is in the numbers.
Since 2003, when the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and the Spokane Valley Police Department teamed up with other agencies and volunteers to patrol the Centennial Trail during the summer, crime has dropped.
The Sheriff’s Office recorded 80 crimes along the sections of the trail east and west of the Spokane city limits in 2003 – down from 108 in 2001. The 2002 figures were not available. Many of those crimes were vehicle break-ins, but there were also several indecent exposures and assaults.
Last summer, bicycle patrols were on the trail seven days a week instead of only five, bumping the number of crimes down to 58. According to the Sheriff’s Office, 36 of those were vehicle break-ins.
Representatives from the Sheriff’s Office and several other agencies hosted a press conference Monday at the Mirabeau Park trailhead to announce this summer’s patrol efforts.
The core of the patrol team is the four school resource officers in Spokane County who will ride east of the Spokane city limits to the state line, though additional officers have been trained to fill in as needed. They’re out on the trails at different hours during the week, said Spokane Valley Police Officer Andy Buell.
Their bikes allow the officers more personal interaction with residents and a low-profile way of getting around. “Bike units are a very useful tool,” said Buell, the school resource officer at West Valley High School.
Thieves breaking into cars parked at trailheads are still the biggest problem, though the number of incidents has gone down. Buell said he’s had many people approach him and tell him how much safer they feel on the trail now. “The people who pay for the state parks through taxes should be able to enjoy it,” he said.
Spokane Police Department Deputy Chief Bruce Roberts said his department uses bicycle officers assigned to the downtown area to patrol the Centennial Trail between Riverfront Park and Green Street. COPS Shops volunteers also help monitor the trail. “We don’t have the remote parking areas,” he said. “The issue is more those areas directly on the trail.”
Roberts said the department does not track crime that occurs on the Centennial Trail as it passes through Spokane.
The entire 37-mile trail is considered part of Riverside State Park, which means that park rules against alcohol apply. Pets must be on leashes no more than 8 feet long. This year, park rangers will be looking for people violating the trail’s 15 mph speed limit, said Rene Wiley of Riverside State Park. “We’ve been getting a lot of complaints about cyclists speeding along,” she said.
Police officers and volunteers have been on the trail already, but the effort won’t be going full throttle until school gets out for the summer.
Areas of the trail not inside the Spokane city limits will also be patrolled by park rangers, Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Society officers, Sheriff’s Community Oriented Policing Effort volunteers and Liberty Lake Police officers.