Rick Scott was breathless.
He’d started his day Monday talking about crime prevention with concerned citizens in Cheney, checked in with the regional Neighborhood Watch coordinator in Spokane and chatted with military folks about a new community policing program at Fairchild Air Force Base.
“Sorry I’m late, guys,” Scott said, walking into his Spokane Valley office for a midafternoon meeting that was looking more like a late-afternoon one. “I got caught up in traffic.”
Everyone smiled sympathetically, knowing there had to have been a traffic snarl somewhere along Scott’s 60-plus-mile tour that morning.
Since becoming director of the Sheriff’s Community Oriented Policing Effort a month ago, the 55-year-old Edgecliff resident has been on a dead run.
SCOPE is a nonprofit organization with more than 600 active volunteers dedicated to crime prevention on the neighborhood level. They do everything from keeping tabs on drug dealers to walking children to school. And they do it from Spokane Valley to Deer Park.
The SCOPE group in Scott’s own neighborhood is credited with turning around one of the region’s most crime-ridden communities. Scott previously was president of SCOPE Edgecliff and director of the federally funded Weed and Seed program, a six-figure effort to eradicate crime and promote community involvement.
Supporters are hopeful Scott’s grant experience, as well as his participation in one of the region’s strongest neighborhood programs, will translate into good things for SCOPE.
“He’s a level-headed guy, and he’s always willing to listen,” said Diana Somerville, a SCOPE North volunteer and county coordinator for Neighborhood Watch. “He has the background through Weed and Seed to bring the community development piece to SCOPE.”
The program Somerville coordinates encourages people to get to know their neighbors so they know when things aren’t right and how to respond. Recognized last year as the best program of its kind in the nation, Neighborhood Watch complements SCOPE, which is more aggressive.
Scott’s new job pays about $35,000 a year, which, considering the size of the organization, isn’t much.
The 600-plus volunteers outnumber the employees at Sterling Savings Bank, The Spokesman-Review or Yoke’s Foods Inc., businesses that rank in the top 15 among private Spokane County employers not involved in the medical industry.
The policing group is perhaps most easily recognized for its volunteer work setting up cones and directing traffic at crime and accident scenes or handing out tickets to drivers parked illegally in spots reserved for disabled people.
But the list of things done by SCOPE volunteers is long.
Every time something is hocked at a pawnshop in Spokane County, a SCOPE volunteer enters the transaction into the sheriff’s pawnshop database and cross-checks it with reports of stolen items.
Nearly all abandoned vehicles tagged for towing in Spokane Valley and unincorporated parts of Spokane County are handled by SCOPE volunteers.
When there’s a report of graffiti, SCOPE volunteers photograph it and register it with the sheriff’s gang task force.
When a mounted patrol is needed for event management or search and rescue, SCOPE saddles up.
“You can do as much as you want as a volunteer,” Scott said. “There are no limits.”
Scott got his start in SCOPE unexpectedly in 1996 after someone broke into the shop behind his house in Edgecliff.
The tiny Spokane Valley community hemmed in by the Dishman Hills to the southeast and Interstate 90 to the north was going through tough times.
“In one square mile, it had more crime per capita than any other community in Spokane County,” Scott said.
Actually, the community’s crime statistics were even bleaker than Scott recalled. News archives indicate that the year his place was burglarized, 76 others in an area smaller than one square mile were broken into.
Law enforcement was so stymied in its efforts to clean up Edgecliff that it spent $140,000 in grants studying the neighborhood and hiring a deputy prosecutor to work nothing but Edgecliff cases.
Drugs were everywhere, homes were run-down and criminals were brazen. The thieves who ripped off Scott stole an $800 bike, a propane heater and an arc welder that would have given an average man a hernia if he had attempted to lug it through the neighborhood.
Edgecliff became the poster child for crime-prevention grants, receiving funding usually made available only to inner-city neighborhoods scarred by relentless urban crime.
That funding eventually presented Scott with an opportunity.
As he became immersed in SCOPE Edgecliff, Scott also was being pushed to the curb as a worker for the second time.
He’d spent 19 years working on automatic bank teller machines, or ATMs, for Bank of America. Scott’s job was outsourced.
Diebold hired Scott to work on its ATMs and security systems, but more and more, his free time was being taken up by SCOPE. He had started out volunteering for Neighborhood Watch patrol and volunteering for community duty such as Walk for Success, a sort of take-back-the-neighborhood parade.
By the early part of this decade, Scott was working with others to land a federal Weed and Seed grant for Edgecliff. The grants bankroll stronger police enforcement while also paying to bring in beneficial community programs.
Only 50 communities in the country had been approved for Weed and Seed grants when Edgecliff got its first one for $224,000 in 2004.
As a condition for accepting the money, Spokane County needed someone to oversee how the grant was spent and hired Scott.
Having seen what grants did for Edgecliff – which no longer ranks at the top of any regional crime category – Scott would like to see what funding is available for other SCOPE stations.
The stations get most of their money from local fundraising and county law enforcement. SCOPE as a whole would be more stable, Scott said, if it added more funding sources, such as other grants for community policing and development.
The Weed and Seed program made Scott a point of contact for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Investigative Support Unit, which targeted drug-related crime in Edgecliff as part of the program. One of the investigators, Lt. Chan Bailey, now is the Sheriff’s Office liaison for SCOPE, meaning he makes sure the two entities are working together.
“SCOPE is a separate entity from the Sheriff’s Office. It’s a nonprofit organization. They have a board of directors, and that board manages SCOPE through a director,” Bailey said. “Other than a little influence, I don’t control what they do.”
Bailey took up the liaison post at the same time Scott was hired.
The liaison’s predecessor, Lt. Steve Jones, had a lot more influence over SCOPE because he did Scott’s job as well. Directing SCOPE was to be Jones’ full-time job.
But in reality, SCOPE was just a fraction of Jones’ workload. Jones had to leave the post several months ago, and SCOPE was without a director for a while.
A nonlaw-enforcement hire seemed like the way to go when Jones was replaced.
“I think having a civilian do it full time, able to devote himself full time, is far better than having a lieutenant do it,” Bailey said. “Even though it’s a full-time job for a lieutenant, we all know in law enforcement that there’s no such thing as one job.”
Bailey now oversees community policing programs, such as school resource deputies who were tied to SCOPE when Jones was director.
Having seen Scott’s work as Weed and Seed director, Bailey says SCOPE’s new hire is a good one.
“I think it’s a great deal, and for me personally, Rick Scott is worth his weight in gold,” Bailey said.
The lieutenant says he would like to see SCOPE strengthen involvement at all 15 of its substations. The most-active SCOPE stations have enough volunteers to keep regular business hours, which is a tall order for other neighborhoods where the sense of community is less or the need for community activism doesn’t seem as urgent.
“Regardless whether it’s a handful of volunteers or a lot of volunteers, they’re all making a difference,” said Bailey.
Someday, one of those volunteers might end up running the show.