Since law enforcement agencies in Spokane County changed how they take reports of non-emergency crimes, citizens have called in 40 percent fewer crimes where an officer was not required.
That worries officials like Spokane County Sheriff’s Lt. Earl Howerton.
“The police can’t see everything. We rely on the public for a lot of our information,” Howerton said. “We try to do our part, but at the same time the community has to help.”
In the face of budget cutbacks, the Spokane Police Department and Spokane County Sheriff’s Office cut their 24-hour Crime Check reporting phone service on Jan. 1.
The old Crime Check number was changed to a message with several phone numbers, and a new report line, Spokane Crime Reporting Center, was opened. Over the weekend, Crime Check was disconnected for good.
Since the reporting center began operation, residents have been able to call in non-emergency crimes only 12 hours a day Monday through Friday and for nine hours on Saturdays. That was followed by the reduction in reports of non-emergency crimes, said Lorlee Mizell, director of 911 Spokane County emergency communications, which ran Crime Check and runs the new system.
Even though police may not come to the scene of a minor crime, the departments use the information to determine when and where they patrol, Howerton said.
The reduction in calls “prevents police from diverting the patrol and investigative efforts into problem areas that may be going overlooked,” Howerton said. “Without that community support, without that community involvement, the police become more blind.”
The decline in non-emergency service has been accompanied by a 30 percent increase in calls to 911. Those operators, who used to take reports only of “life-threatening” incidents, now handle situations where callers have “an immediate need,” Mizell said.
The non-emergency operators can be switched into emergency response service if 911 becomes clogged, Mizell said. That happened Aug. 12 when strong winds spread several Spokane County fires.
The change in service also has led to an increase in Web reporting. Before this year, about 30 people a month filed reports online, Mizell said. That number has jumped to about 175 a month this year.