In response to a letter sent to City Hall and the Spokane Police Department in November, a community meeting was held last week at the Outlaw Cafe on North Market Street. About 30 people attended, including Councilwoman Amber Waldref, Mayor Mary Verner and many representatives from the Spokane Police Department.
The letter, which was signed by business and property owners and neighbors in Hillyard, called for more frequent undercover drug patrols, especially during the hours between midnight and 3 a.m. to crack down on a problem with drug dealing and using.
“There is so much drug dealing and vandalism going on here. I was broken into. We know the people who did it, but we can’t do anything about it,” said Marv Peterson, owner of Hillyard Variety, as a way of explaining part of the crime problem.
“We sometimes go out at night to keep an eye on things. There is a lot of traffic and people are getting in your face,” said Richard Burris, of Hillyard Futures, explaining why the area needs more police patrols. “We are not asking for more protection; we know that you don’t have enough resources. What we are asking for is more undercover patrols – anybody can recognize a black-and-white patrol car from a mile away. It doesn’t work.” The neighborhood groups, said Burris, are hoping that the Spokane Police Department will be able to switch some resources to undercover patrols instead of regular street patrols.
Representatives from the Spokane Police Department and the COPS shops listened patiently.
Spokane Police Department Maj. Scott Stephens, who’s in charge of the patrol units, said it doesn’t solve Hillyard’s drug problem “to throw a couple of officers out there in plainclothes thinking that will take care of it.”
He added that the police department is trying to coordinate things better with the neighborhoods and with other law enforcement entities.
Stephens added that one thing people in Hillyard can do is to notice and report drug houses in as much detail as possible. Several people were arrested recently at a drug house bust, and the SPD is making an effort to get repeat offenders tougher convictions so they end up serving more time in jail.
“We are trying to get the judges on board to boost their bail up, so they don’t get out of jail so easily,” Stephens said.
Some Hillyard businesses have installed video surveillance cameras inside and outside their shops. The video feeds have been made available to the COPS shop on Market Street, via the Internet, as a way to deter crime.
But this does not replace the SPD’s need for citizen input. Throughout the meeting it was reinterated that any criminal activity should be reported in as much detail as possible: The SPD needs license plate numbers, times and dates, as well as descriptions of the people who show up frequently.
“But please be careful while you are doing it so you don’t get into a confrontation with drug dealers or other criminals,” Stephens said.
Verner asked whether people don’t report criminal activity because they think nothing is going to happen. Several business owners agreed with her statement.
“Then we need a feedback loop, we need to find a way to get that information back to the community, so people don’t think their reports go into a black hole,” Verner said.
Several business owners were also upset with how and when media refer to Hillyard: When something good happens in Hillyard, the area is referred to as “Northeast Spokane” – but when something bad happens, like the recent shooting at the Special K Bar (on Garland and Market) it’s referred to as Hillyard, said Vickie Peterson, of Hillyard Variety.
This frustrates business owners who said they have worked hard on changing Hillyard’s reputation, adding that as long as drug crimes continue to be a problem, it is really hard to keep the good PR going.
Most were happy with the meeting.
“The response to the letter we sent has been awesome. Where we are at now is: How do we continue on and work with the city?” said Luke Tolley, of the Greater Hillyard Business Association. “I hope we can keep building on this.”