June 17, 2010 in Washington Voices

Activities at West Central house concern neighbors

Traffic at all hours, mess in yard draw complaints
By The Spokesman-Review

When Lorna Doone Brewer and her family purchased a home on West Sharp Avenue, they did so because they wanted to live in the West Central Neighborhood.

Brewer said she loved the many old homes in the area and the diversity of the people who live there. Her family found a home so close to Holmes Elementary School the playground is visible through the front door. Many of the homes in the neighborhood have been recently remodeled and painted, vegetable gardens are sprouting up in front yards and Brewer said they couldn’t have been happier with their choice of neighborhood.

“This is what we wanted, there was so much to like here,” Brewer said, about the time her family moved in four years ago. “It’s beautiful, it’s so diverse. There are big houses right next to ramshackle homes, and we have ethnic diversity.”

Comings and goings

All was well until about two years ago when activity at a neighbor’s house began to change dramatically. Brewer said she noticed traffic picking up and people coming and going at all times of the day and night, at Roselyn Elkington’s home across the street at 2718 W. Sharp Ave.

“There is so much foot traffic, it seems like hundreds of people just walk through the front door,” said Brewer. “People show up barefoot in the middle of the night. Sometimes they are lined up outside her fence waiting for something. Cars start and come and go in the middle of the night – they prowl through the alleys.”

Joy Jones has lived on West Sharp for three years, and she has seen the same development as Brewer.

“It really has all the signs of drug activity, especially people I don’t recognize coming and going at all hours,” said Jones. “I don’t want to seem hostile toward our neighbors, but I’m concerned about my kids and our safety.”

Brewer said that’s her main point, too: “I’m worried about my safety and the safety of my family. The other night a man showed up with a chainsaw looking for someone inside the house.”

Elkington said she doesn’t know what her neighbors are talking about.

“There’s nothing going on here like that,” she said, during a brief conversation from behind her screen door. “I don’t know what they are talking about. They have nothing to be concerned about.”

Neighborhood resource Officer Traci Douglas, whose office is at COPS Northwest on West Boone Avenue, just a few blocks away, is very aware that neighbors are complaining about Elkington’s house.

“There never have been any drug arrests there that I know of,” Douglas said. “But I’ve had a lot of contact with the neighbors.”

Both Brewer and Jones have called Crime Check and 911 because of activity at Elkington’s house.

“I’ve talked to the COPS shop, I’ve talked to the neighborhood resource officer, I’ve sent in license plates and photos I’ve taken – I don’t know how many times I’ve called Crime Check but I’ve called 911 around 10 times,” Brewer said.

Jones also called code enforcement because she grew concerned with the amount of stuff accumulated in Elkington’s backyard.

“There is so much junk in that backyard, what if it catches fire?” Jones said.

Jonathan Mallahan from the city’s neighborhood services said that code enforcement has served Elkington with several civic notices of violation. A criminal citation was issued on March 22, Mallahan said.

“Only after we’ve tried everything else will we go down the road of a criminal citation,” said Mallahan. “What’s going on at that address is considered a nuisance which is a misdemeanor.”

Jones and Brewer, and several other neighbors who didn’t want their names in the paper for fear of retaliation, simply want the Elkington household cleaned up and the constant comings and goings to stop.

“My heart goes out to Rose (Elkington), but I’m worried for our safety. People leave her house drunk and high, there’s yelling and screaming in the street, I feel like my family is in danger,” said Brewer. “I don’t want to disparage the police, but I am a little disappointed that nothing has happened. Ten children live on this block, we are right next to the school and there’s a day care center here.”

Douglas said she understands the neighbors’ frustration, but that not much can be done because Elkington owns the house she lives in.

“If she was a renter and had three valid nuisance problems on her property within 60 days, the landlord could use that to evict her,” said Douglas. “In this situation we would have to abate the house. It’s rare that we do that – I probably only see one of those cases every couple of years.”

Right response

Douglas said Elkington’s neighbors are doing all the right things by documenting the nuisance behavior and calling Crime Check and 911 when appropriate.

“I need multiple neighbors willing to say they’ve seen something happen, and ideally, I need an officer to see it,” Douglas said.

Douglas said all the information and all the complaint forms submitted to her via the COPS shop are turned over to the appropriate people within the department.

“We often can’t get back to people, but the information they send in does help us,” Douglas said. “Sometimes a license plate number leads to other people we need to take a look at. We need the neighbors’ help.”

Actually, Douglas explained, keeping in touch and staying informed on a neighborhood level in situations like this is one of the main roles of the neighborhood resource officer.

That link between the Spokane Police Department and neighbors could disappear if proposed budget cuts move current neighborhood resource officers to patrol where more staff is needed.

“I can’t do both – and I can’t stay here behind a desk knowing that my partners out in the field need my help,” Douglas said.

Add to that Mayor Mary Verner’s city budget proposal which would cut the COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) budget from $205,000 to $85,000 a year, and concerned neighbors like Jones and Brewer would have an even more difficult time getting heard.

“If that happens, two of our three full-time staff people would be laid off, leaving one person to run a very large organization,” said Maurece Vulcano, program coordinator for COPS.

Vulcano said the COPS shops are the connection between neighbors and the police department.

“We are the first contact, and oftentimes people don’t need a police officer – they need a city department that we can help them reach,” Vulcano said. “We take communication forms from everyone and pass them on to the neighborhood resource officer.”

Vulcano said people come in with drug activity related questions, gang issues, graffiti questions and reports of vehicle break-ins.

“The whole idea behind COPS was to make it more convenient for citizens to come in and get help,” said Vulcano. “If we weren’t there, citizens would more than likely get caught up in a phone tree somewhere and give up trying to get help.”

For now, Jones and Brewer will continue to document and report what they see at Elkington’s home.

“Perhaps other neighbors will be willing to come forth now that they see that we are doing it,” said Brewer. “I know we aren’t the only people in this situation. If we can rally enough neighbors around here, something must be done about this house.”

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