June 30, 2011 in Washington Voices

As COPS West turns 20, need for volunteers is great

By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photoBuy this photo

COPS WEST volunteer Carol Ellsworth, checks the back of Nicki Wood’s photograph for information, June 24, 2011 in Spokane, Wash. COPS WEST was started after the disappearance and death of Wood in 1991. Nicki’s friend, Rebecca West (picture on wall) is still missing.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Map of this story's location
COPS West fast facts

COPS West is at 1901 W. Boone Ave.

Call: (509) 625-3340.

Open hours: usually on Wednesdays from 5:30 to 8 p.m.; Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Current volunteers: seven or eight regulars.

Most frequent inquiries: how to deal with suspected drug houses and code violations.

Program COPS West would most like to bring back: Neighborhood observation patrols.

Biggest need: Volunteers available at least once a week. Must be 18 and pass a criminal background check.

COPS West is where it all began. Actually, it all began with the disappearance of Rebecca West and Nicki Wood, 12 and 11, who walked to the store in 1991 but never made it home. Wood’s body was later found, but the fate of West remains unknown.

Today, 20 years later, the portraits of the two girls hang in the lobby at COPS West on Boone Avenue and serve as a constant reminder of why COPS was started.

“We have pictures of all the missing people in Spokane in the front window,” said Carol Ellsworth, a volunteer with COPS West for 18 years.

COPS West opened its doors in 1991, the brainchild of community activist Cheryl Steele and dozens of West Central neighbors who wanted to make their neighborhood safer.

It’s located in an older one-story building, and like other COPS shops it plays host to parole officers from the Department of Corrections and to the Spokane Police Department’s neighborhood resource officer.

And like most other COPS shops it lacks one thing: volunteers.

“Back in the day we used to have so much going on here, we served kids breakfast and we had all sorts of programs,” said Ellsworth. “Kids Club was really popular, but you need a very energetic and enthusiastic person who loves kids to do that – I doubt we’ll see that again.”

The lack of volunteers means that open hours are short.

“We used to be open from 10 in the morning to 8 at night,” said Ellsworth. “We have had help from AARP but their program runs out at the end of June. So we really need some people.”

The majority of calls and visits to COPS West pertain to drug houses and code violations.

Ellsworth said there are many absentee landlords in the neighborhood, and renters often move out leaving heaps of trash and old furniture behind.

“We get a lot of support from West Central Community Center when it comes to neighborhood cleanup,” said Ellsworth. “They have the free dump passes and we hand them out.”

One volunteer walks the neighborhood looking for code violations and possible drug houses, then tries to find property owners online so they can be held accountable.

“We also have some very active volunteers looking for graffiti,” said Ellsworth. “Graffiti is a huge problem. And I think a lot of it happens at night. I mean, you never see them out tagging during the day.”

That’s one reason why Ellsworth is hoping the neighborhood observation patrol program can be revived. It is a volunteer patrol program that keeps an eye and ear on the neighborhood, especially in the evenings and over the weekends. Volunteers go through training with the Spokane Police Department, then drive through the area watching what’s going on.

Ellsworth, who lives in the neighborhood, said reviving the program would be ideal for volunteers who mostly have time to give over the weekend.

Potential volunteers need not worry about dangers associated with the work at the COPS shop.

“I’d like for people to know that they can bring their knitting or a good book, because some days absolutely nothing happens,” said Ellsworth. “But we need you. Doesn’t matter how much time you have, or what your skills are, we have jobs for you to do.”

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email