May 11, 2011 in City
Unmarked police cars targeted
Bill, stemming from death of pastor, seeks limit on use
Two lawmakers from Spokane Valley want to bar law enforcement officers from parking unmarked police cars on private property for routine matters.
The legislation, sponsored by Republican state Reps. Matt Shea and Larry Crouse, seeks to clarify what they called a “vague” state law that allows local law enforcement to use unmarked cars for administrative tasks. They both said in a news release that the clarification would avoid future confrontations like the one that led to the fatal police shooting of 74-year-old Wayne Scott Creach last summer.
“The tragic shooting of pastor Creach was avoidable. It’s made a lot of people take a second look at practices and procedures that have been commonplace in the past,” Crouse said in the prepared remarks. “Law enforcement has a critical job to do. We just want to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”
Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Hirzel has been cleared of any wrongdoing by Spokane County prosecutors, and most recently, by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Citizen Advisory Board. He parked his unmarked police car at Creach’s family business, The Plant Farm, on the night of Aug. 25 after a neighbor requested an extra patrol because her son was having trouble with local youths.
As he waited, Hirzel was filling out a collision report from earlier in the evening, he told investigators, when he saw a man approaching him with a gun. Hirzel said the man, who turned out to be Creach, the founder of Greenacres Baptist Church, initially refused to put down the gun but eventually placed it in the waistband of his pants.
Hirzel exited his car and ordered the man to get on the ground. When Creach refused, Hirzel claimed that he hit Creach in the knee with his police baton. He said Creach initially buckled and then reached for his gun. Hirzel said he fired when he saw the butt of the pistol grip.
“It’s reasonable to expect any time there is an unknown car parked on private property, the property owner is likely to go out and investigate. That’s what this pastor did. He should not have been killed while protecting his own property,” Shea said in the release. “In the interest of safety and private property rights, I think unmarked police cars should not be parked on private property while the officer is doing administrative functions or routine reports.”
The bill has been referred to the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee for further consideration. However, the sponsors did not get leadership approval to bring the bill up during the current special session on the state budget.
Shea said he wanted to get the conversation started and work through any concerns from law enforcement officials before reintroducing the bill in next year’s session.
Alan Creach, son of the slain pastor, said he hopes something is done regardless if it’s this year or during the next legislative session.
“This is about public safety and private property rights,” Creach said. “It would have been a lot easier for the sheriff to change it. But he didn’t … and I think it’s at the expense of the community.”
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he doesn’t understand what Shea and Crouse are trying to accomplish with the bill.
“I can’t tell you how many times members of the community or business people have said, ‘Any time you folks need to park in my parking lot or driveway, we want you up there taking care of issues,’ ” Knezovich said. “Those people expect us to be in those parking lots protecting their businesses in the wee hours of the morning. That’s how we operate.”
Asked if his comments referred to marked or unmarked cars, Knezovich said both apply. The Sheriff’s Office, which contracts to provide police services to Spokane Valley, has 24 marked cars and 10 unmarked cars that patrol the city. Another 13 unmarked cars are used by patrol and supervisors in the unincorporated portions of Spokane County.
Staff writer Jim Camden contributed to this story.