COPS Greater Spokane is different from the other COPS shops in one major way: it covers a huge geographical area, including all of downtown, the western part of the South Hill all the way out across Hangman Valley to Eagle Ridge, and south to 57th Avenue.
“It means that we have all different kinds of neighborhoods and buildings,” said Beaudreau Hull, who’s volunteered for COPS Greater Spokane for nine years. “We have really upscale rentals, and we have sex-offender housing and ordinary residential neighborhoods. And we have all the businesses downtown.”
Hull began volunteering for COPS when there was a COPS shop on West Sixth Avenue. That, along with the COPS shop on West First Avenue, were merged to form COPS Greater Spokane.
The downtown location doesn’t get that many walk-ins and oftentimes when people do walk in, they are visitors from out of town who think they’ve located a precinct.
“They come in and say their car was stolen from a lot, and they think they are at the police station,” said volunteer Betty Findley, who’s been with COPS for eight years. “We are not the police department. Sometimes they think we can do things for them that we simply can’t – but we help point them in the right direction.”
Hull said the COPS shop gets about 400 phone calls a month.
“People want to know what to do if their car was broken into, or they want to find out if their boyfriend was arrested over the weekend,” said Hull. “It’s a variety of things.” Volunteers discovered that COPS Greater Spokane sometimes comes up before the Spokane Police Department when people do Internet searches for police in Spokane.
“We couldn’t understand why we got some of the calls that clearly needed to go to the police department,” said Hull. “Now we know, but we can’t change it.”
Like other COPS shops, Greater Spokane shares the space with officers from the Washington State Department of Corrections and the tone in the office is friendly and supportive.
“The volunteers here help me stay motivated when I’m having a bad day,” said corrections Officer Jeffrey Hawkins. “When I see them come in here for free and do all they do to help their community, it motivates me.”
The biggest need at COPS Greater Spokane is for more volunteers, both at the shop and out in the neighborhoods. Currently there are 11.
“It’s easy to get the neighborhoods going when they are concerned about something specific,” Findley said. “But once that particular issue is solved, they don’t always stick with it.” Another issue is that people don’t report crimes and vandalism to Crime Check or the police.
“We tell people all the time that they must call police,” Findley said.
There are 32 Block Watch programs registered with COPS Greater Spokane, and three more coming right up. In the downtown area a program called Business Watch – similar to Block Watch but for retail and commercial areas – is available, but hasn’t really caught on.
Students from the criminal justice programs at Eastern Washington University and Spokane Falls Community College often volunteer and do projects at COPS Greater Spokane.
“They are just good and so willing to help us,” said Findley. “They come up with great stuff.”
The central downtown location has made it easier to do fundraisers, said Findley. That’s helpful, but the biggest need is still volunteers who are over 18 and can pass a background check. Computer skills are appreciated but not required as staff can teach volunteers what they need to know.
“We have lost senior volunteers who thought they weren’t safe here,” said Hull. “But I’ve been here for nine years, and I’ve never had a reason to feel unsafe. And we can find a job for anyone. There are lots to be done.”