March 1, 2009 in Opinion

Our View: Police evidence building a worthy ballot issue

 

While roofs around the Inland Northwest were collapsing under December’s record snowfall, the one at 1300 W. Gardner Ave. in Spokane survived. Not that there weren’t anxious moments at the aging, one-story structure that serves as an evidence property room for area law-enforcement agencies. Vertical supporting timbers bowed and cracked under the weight, at one point crimping the plastic pipe that shields computer network wiring.

Not wanting thousands of criminal investigations and prosecutions to be at the mercy of weather, fire and a deteriorating structure, the city of Spokane is asking voters to pay for a replacement. A new evidence facility is the most expensive of four items on an $18.5 million bond issue. We believe the voters have good reason to approve the measure that would cost the owner of a $200,000 home slightly less than $20 a year for the next 20 years.

Also in the proposal, which appears on the March 10 ballot:

•$4.2 million for new animal control facilities needed to complete an agreement in which animal control in the city will depend on Spokane County’s SCRAPS program. Other remedies for the city’s long-standing animal-control headache would have had their own costs.

•$2 million for a new Municipal Court, established by the city after a state Supreme Court ruling made it risky to rely further on the Spokane County District Court system.

•$500,000 to refurbish the Spokane Police Department’s shooting range. The zoning, environmental and public safety concerns behind this upgrade don’t have the same urgency as the other items, but the tab is meager.

The dominant item, though, is the $11.8 million evidence facility.

The main building was constructed in the 1940s, with an extension added in the ’50s. Cold-case evidence maintained there goes back at least to 1959. Burglary items sit around for as long as 15 years under active warrants. Homicide cases consume 1,000 square feet in three different areas to handle thousands of items that often must be kept for a defendant’s lifetime.

There’s no fire suppression system. (The fact that the cinder block walls weep during wet weather doesn’t count.)

For relief from the sometimes foul air associated with the building’s contents, employees rely on an outside air exchange that has to be used sparingly in cold weather.

Body fluids, rape kits and other materials that must be refrigerated or frozen are crowded into aging, inefficient units that provide about one-fourth of the space needed. A packed drug vault is about 260 square feet, barely more than half of what’s needed.

We’re not expecting another 60-inch snow month anytime soon, but many threats put the current evidence room in jeopardy. Gambling on it to avert a law-enforcement catastrophe is a high-stakes risk. Too high.


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