Policing the city center
They walk a beat where they could appear at any time on a downtown sidewalk, in the skywalk system or the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza.
In just two months, Spokane police Officers Dean Draper and Nate Spiering have been making their presence felt downtown, and longtime troublemakers have taken notice.
Downtown security staff and business owners say they’ve seen panhandling, trespassing, vandalism and other illicit activity decline since the two officers were assigned full-time to the downtown core. Special phones connect them to security officers with whom they coordinate to target repeat offenders and problem areas.
Draper and Spiering are the first Spokane officers to walk such a beat in quite some time.
“I’ve been downtown doing hair for more than 30 years, and it’s been years since we’ve had anyone walking downtown patrolling the streets,” said Lindalou Steckler, owner of Lindalou’s Hair Design in the 400 block of West Sprague.
“They keep people in line and stop people who are causing problems,” said Steckler, who wholeheartedly supports the new emphasis on downtown safety and security.
Because STA pays for one officer’s salary, either Draper or Spiering must remain within the roughly 25-square-block area surrounding the Plaza 40 hours per week. Often both officers patrol that area together, although one sometimes works in a larger area banded by the Spokane River on the north, Bishop Court on the south, Division on the east and Cedar on the west.
Both men requested their downtown posts and were interviewed by police supervisors, Spokane Transit officials and others before being selected.
On Friday the two patrolled the area, stopping to look into a darkened garage that has become a hot spot for teen drinking. No one was there.
“Anonymity fuels a lot of nuisance crime,” said Spiering, who added that those who get away with their troublemaking continue, while those cited will often stop.
Draper and Spiering already know the worst offenders well. All they needed recently was the street name and a brief description of a man who assaulted another young man near the Plaza to identify and arrest him.
One key downtown problem area this past summer was the Wall Street pedestrian corridor, where gangs of street kids vandalized neighboring properties and hassled people. That area has largely been cleaned up since the police came on board, said Downtown Spokane Partnership President Marty Dickinson.
“They’ve had a major positive impact,” said STA Plaza Security Chief Cliff Schlienger, who added that he and other security officers appreciate coordinating directly with Draper and Spiering.
“Groups aren’t as comfortable now just hanging out because they know they’re being watched,” Draper said. Watching such groups has led to arrests on warrants and drug busts, he added.
The two officers, along with downtown security personnel and city prosecutors, have compiled a top 20 repeat offenders list, to highlight for extra scrutiny.
“Instead of just getting a slap on the wrist, they’ll get some jail time,” said Downtown Security Ambassador Director Larry Killstrom. “We’ve really started to make it work since the Spokane Police Department came down.”