No two COPS shops are the same. Each shop reflects the unique issues, people and challenges of the neighborhood it’s located in, and the calls and contacts coming in every week vary wildly. Where one shop gets drug house calls, another may get more calls about barking dogs.
At COPS Southeast, which is smack at the center of Lincoln Heights, they get a lot of calls about property disputes.
“We hear about fence line disputes and someone planting flowers on someone else’s property and cars parked so they hang over a neighbor’s driveway,” said Larry Wood, who has volunteered with COPS Southeast for more than six years. “And loud motorcycles, boy do we hear about those. We log every contact and pass it on to the officers – we don’t go out there and try to solve the problem.”
Wood said the shop also gets a lot of calls about car prowlings and graffiti – like most other COPS shops in town.
Volunteers at the COPS shops are trained to take down information and help citizens find the right way to report a problem or crime, but they aren’t police officers. The only thing that comes even remotely close to patrolling is Neighborhood Observation Patrols – or NOPS as they are affectionately called – and COPS Southeast has a fairly active NOPS program.
“When we started we were going out on the weekends and at night,” said Wood, “but with everybody’s eyesight deteriorating as we get older, we now go out during the day.”
That’s a gentle way of saying that here, like at many of the other COPS shops, volunteers are mostly seniors or retired people and sometimes their life circumstances change suddenly in major ways: spouses pass away, health problems pop up or it becomes more difficult to get around. Wood just lost his NOPS partner of many years, because health problems sent him to the hospital.
“We like senior volunteers, they do a great job and we don’t want to take a mom or a dad away from their family in the evenings,” said Wood, “but we need volunteers who can work the desk here.”
Sometimes COPS Southeast can’t stay open during the posted hours because no one is available to volunteer.
The shop just had a successful bike registration and children identification fair.
“We were so busy, that was great,” said Wood.
And they do pretty well on fundraising, though funding always is tight.
Wood explained that the shop holds a meat sale fundraiser twice a year.
“That’s the main way in which we build funds to keep the shop going,” said Wood.
COPS Southeast is the only COPS shop left on the upper South Hill, so neighborhood calls come in from the southwestern parts of Spokane, too.
“We are covering quite a big area,” Wood said, looking at the map.
One program that hasn’t gotten as much attention as Wood would like for it to have, is the McGruff Safe House Program. McGruff the crime fighting dog is the furry mascot of COPS and the safe house program. Private homes may qualify as McGruff Safe Houses after training and background checks. Once qualified, the home gets a sign to put in the window and is officially a safe place for children who are lost, locked out of their own home, hurt or otherwise victimized.
“It seems like we used to do more with that program than we do now,” said Wood. “But you can only do so much with the people you have.”