Profiling the Community Oriented Policing Services shops for The Voice this summer, and traveling from one to the next, it quickly becomes obvious that all COPS shops are not created equal.
Some are small with limited opening hours because they don’t have enough volunteers to staff the front desk. Others are big and vibrant, with long hours and a constant coming and going of neighbors, police officers and volunteers.
COPS Northwest falls in the latter category. It’s at the southeast corner of Shadle Shopping Center and has some of the longest operating hours of any COPS shop.
It’s been in the neighborhood for 17 years and where it may sometimes be a little stretched on people, it’s not in desperate need of volunteers.
“I’d say our staffing is pretty good,” said Sharon Care, a volunteer. “Each day has two shifts and each shift has two people. Each shift also has certain tasks, like vacuuming or emptying the shredder, to take care of.”
The first order of the day is always to listen to voicemails and check email.
Care said they try to call everyone back, but that’s not always as easy as it may sound.
“People are funny. They give me information that they shouldn’t give out, then don’t give me the information that we need,” Care said.
COPS volunteers fill out communication forms that are passed on to the Spokane Police Department whenever someone calls in with a concern or complaint.
“We hear a lot about suspected drug houses,” said Denise Spores. They give advice on how to write down license plate numbers and car descriptions, without drawing attention to themselves, she said.
Even if a neighbor with a suspected drug house complaint doesn’t hear back from a drug unit officer, filling out the forms helps gather intelligence.
“And it makes a person feel better that you are keeping tabs on what’s going on,” Care said.
One big problem in the northwest area is that people park and live in their motor homes on public streets. It’s happening more frequently.
“I think it’s because of the bad economy,” Spores said. “But it’s illegal. You can’t do that.”
COPS Northwest covers a large territory and the many daily contacts keep volunteers busy.
Sometimes people have odd questions, such as the young woman who called to ask if it’s illegal to have sex in a private backyard. She wanted to know, because her neighbor had crawled up on her fence in an effort to better see what was going on.
“Apparently, she was the one doing it – not the neighbor,” said Spores.
Some of the most popular programs with COPS Northwest are the Neighborhood Observation Patrols and Block Watch.
Potential volunteers often walk in off the street with a question or a neighborhood concern – then get “sucked in” that way.
That’s how Spores got started at this shop many years ago.
“I came in to report an abandoned vehicle, and I sort of never left again,” she said.
Said Scot Heter, another longtime volunteer: “I’m still here because it makes me happy any time I can make life more difficult and more expensive for the criminal element in this town.”
Care joined COPS because she wanted to know what is going on in the neighborhood.
Her motivation for sticking around is a common denominator among many COPS volunteers.
“I want to help make the city a better place and a safer place. That’s why I’m here,” she said.