November 11, 2010 in Washington Voices

Hillyard panel seeks more police presence

Letter signed by committee gets mayor’s attention
By The Spokesman-Review
Weekly meetings

The Historic Hillyard Merchants Committee meets every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. at the Outlaw Cafe at 5012 N. Market St. The meetings are open to the public. One of the committee’s main goals is to bring more shoppers to Hillyard. The panel puts on events such as the Hillyard North Pole.

North Market Street has been restored beautifully all the way through the main Hillyard business district. Planters sit neatly under the new lampposts, crosswalks are painted and parking has become easier in the new stalls along the street.

At the Historic Hillyard Merchants Committee meetings Wednesday mornings, usually about 20 business owners and neighbors gather and talk about what’s going on in the neighborhood. The committee plans neighborhood events and coordinates advertising efforts throughout the year. Most Wednesday mornings the conversation centers on upcoming events, but the past couple of Wednesdays another topic has been the desire for more police patrolling in the area.

A couple of weeks ago Richard Burris of Hillyard Community Futures suggested the group write a letter to the city asking for more undercover police patrols to come through Hillyard, to better address a perceived drug using and dealing problem. That letter was passed around and signed at last week’s meeting.

“What we need is police in plain vehicles and plain clothes,” Burris told the Hillyard blog in mid-October. “Those who cause trouble can spot a marked police car from a mile away.”

Business owners said they appreciate the regular marked patrols through Hillyard, but it is in the hours after midnight and before merchants return to their shops in the early morning when drug crimes happen.

Some business owners said that fear of retaliation keeps them from calling police when they probably should, and absentee building owners don’t always respond when asked to remove graffiti and clean up alleyways.

Marv Peterson, owner of Hillyard Variety, said that problems with vandalism and drug use have gotten worse over the past six months.

“Personally, I think it’s because of the economy,” he said.

The letter, which was also signed by the Hillyard Neighborhood Council and the Greater Hillyard Business Association, reached the desk of Spokane Mayor Mary Verner late last week.

“The mayor read the letter and instructed her staff to set up a meeting that includes representatives from Hillyard, along with appropriate city folks,” wrote Spokane city spokeswoman Marlene Feist in an e-mail. The meeting will include the mayor, council members Amber Waldreff and Bob Apple, who represent Hillyard, as well as police representatives.

“At this point, we need to fully assess the situation and determine the best course of action to assist the neighborhood and business district. We’ll start with this meeting,” Feist wrote. A date has not been set.

That meeting is good news in Hillyard, where some business owners are so concerned about burglaries and vandalism that they have put up video surveillance cameras.

First time they tried that, the cameras were cut down and stolen.

Now a new set of cameras have gone up.

“We have this alley right next door where it’s pretty bad,” Peterson said. “There is this carport back there and not a day goes by that no one sleeps in there.”

The alley shows clear signs of occupancy: dirty clothes, shopping carts, broken glass, mail and trash is thrown on the ground and there is graffiti on some of the walls. Windows covered with plywood make for easy access to empty buildings.

Peterson said he feels compassion toward the homeless looking for a place to spend the night.

“I grew up in this neighborhood, I know there are a lot of people who are having a hard time right now,” said Peterson. “It’s not so much the people sleeping out overnight; it’s the drugs and the vandalism that really bothers us.” Peterson has put up surveillance cameras and when he’s not at the store he can watch the video from home, over the Internet.

“I just wish we could have more of a presence of police here,” said Peterson.

He added that business owners routinely walk through the neighborhood after closing to check on things.

“If we see anybody in a place where they aren’t supposed to be, we just tell them to leave or we’ll call police,” Peterson said.

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