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Cheryl Steele, who started COPS West, and her husband Marc Miller stand in front of their 1963 Chrysler 300 as part of National Night Out on Tuesday in the West Central neighborhood.  (Asia Hege)
Cheryl Steele, who started COPS West, and her husband Marc Miller stand in front of their 1963 Chrysler 300 as part of National Night Out on Tuesday in the West Central neighborhood. (Asia Hege)

Night against crime unites neighborhood

West Central’s rate has been dropping, but budget cuts loom

A year ago, Derek Garcia was shot in the stomach in a drive-by shooting in West Central.

That didn’t keep him from celebrating the community Tuesday night. It is, after all, the neighborhood where he grew up and where he lives with his wife and two children.

“People think this neighborhood is bad, but people shouldn’t fear coming down here,” Garcia said. “I like what people are doing to get their neighbors to come out.”

Garcia, 24, and his family attended a classic car rendezvous in the parking lot of the West Central Community Center that later led to a classic car patrol through the neighborhood in celebration of National Night Out, an event to bring awareness to neighborhoods about the resources available to residents.

Riding in the patrol in a 1963 Chrysler 300 sat Cheryl Steele, the woman who started COPS West, and her husband Marc Miller. COPS, which stands for Community Oriented Policing Substations, is a partnership of the Spokane Police Department, the state Department of Corrections and community members.

There are 12 in Spokane, and each one has a police “resource officer” and community volunteers. The substations serve as hubs for community needs, such as information about reporting crime, finding health care providers or education about fire hazards.

Steele started the first substation in Spokane after her daughter’s friend was abducted and murdered. She served as the director for nine years.

Now Steele and Miller are trying to recruit community members to form the “Blue Ribbon Team,” a coalition to examine new law enforcement models.

“It’s up to the people. Citizens should decide how they want service delivery,” Steele said.

“We need to change the way we do business. We need to put tax dollars into service delivery and prevention.”

Volunteers and community leaders agree that crime has decreased in West Central over the past couple of years. But with budget cuts looming, it’s uncertain what will happen to the resources they have.

Noah Sutherland, the manager of Cool Water Bikes, tuned bikes for his neighbors Tuesday.

“The biggest potential loss would be our resource officer. She’s been a huge help in the neighborhood,” Sutherland said.

Another volunteer, Mary Fryback, lived in the neighborhood for 10 years. She believes a lot of deterioration happened because half of the houses in the neighborhood are owned by absentee landlords.

“It’s going to be a while, but our neighborhood will get stable again,” Fryback said. “It’s a fight, block by block.”



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