October 6, 2011 in City

Spokane police to investigate fewer thefts, burglaries

Property crimes unit disbands
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

Worker Jeffrey Reeder helps install a high-density mobile shelving system in the city of Spokane’s new evidence storage facility at 4010 E. Alki on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

New storage facility

Spokane-area law enforcement welcomed the opening of a new evidence-storage facility (pictured at left) Wednesday.

The 66,000-square foot facility has fire-suppression capabilities not found in the previous 17,000-square-foot facility on West Gardner Avenue.

The city announced plans to buy the warehouse more than a year after voters rejected a tax to pay for a new building. The city borrowed from the main reserve and investment fund. The new building cost about $3.4 million with upgrades.

“It’s about a 100 percent improvement over our current facility,” said Tom Bell, police evidence technician. Employees will be transferring evidence to the new facility over the next week. Mayor Mary Verner said the new facility should serve the Spokane Police Department and Spokane County Sheriff’s Office for 50 to 75 years.

If you’re a victim of a burglary, theft or car prowling in Spokane, don’t expect to get the crime solved.

The Spokane Police Department announced Wednesday the official elimination of the property crimes unit and said citizens should expect only 5 percent of reported property crime to be investigated.

“We don’t want people to have that false impression that just because you make a police report a detective is going to look at it,” said Officer Jennifer DeRuwe, department spokeswoman.

Police continued working active cases and have been trying to start new investigations, but the resources to continue doing so just aren’t there, DeRuwe said.

This comes as FBI statistics show property crime in Spokane is increasing and violent crime is remaining steady, and as police warn of an increase in car theft.

It also comes after Mayor Mary Verner ordered the hiring of at least six more officers. DeRuwe said those hires will be used to fill patrol spots.

“That’s just to get us to a staffing level to sustain the calls for service,” DeRuwe said.

DeRuwe urged residents to continue to report burglaries, vehicle prowling and other property crimes. She said detectives will try to focus on property crime trends and crime committed by repeat offenders through the department’s targeted crime unit.

“But if it’s just your car got stolen and you don’t know who did it, you’re probably not going to get an investigation from us,” DeRuwe said. “It totally sucks for everybody in the community.”

Verner said she’s committed to adequately staffing the police department, but Chief Anne Kirkpatrick has had to make difficult decisions about where to place employees.

“The chief has to prioritize,” Verner said, and the top priority is responding to 911 calls and other calls for immediate service.

While violent crime in Spokane has remained at about 6 reports per 1,000 people since 2007, property crimes have increased from 56.5 reports per 1,000 people in 2007 to 73.9 in 2010. But initial calls for service, which are top priority, have soared. Between 1999 and 2010, according to police, there was a 14 percent increase in citizen calls for police as the city grew by 6 percent.

Verner said the force needs 35 or more additional officers “to get them to adequate staffing.”

Verner announced in May that she authorized the six new officers, which accompanied a report on police staffing that said the current size of the force, 290 commissioned officers, was inadequate to handle the demand for service.

David Condon, who is challenging Verner in the November mayoral election, said he would either work with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office to partner on property crimes or shift resources to bring back the detectives, perhaps from city programs focused on the environment.

“That is one of the No. 1 responsibilities of the city government is to protect its citizens,” Condon said. “I wouldn’t be comfortable with shutting it (the property crime unit) down.”

DeRuwe said patrol officers are preparing for additional calls for service once the West Plains is annexed to the city of Spokane next year.

“Basically, we’re just at the point now where we just need to make it clear to the community that we don’t have the officers, we don’t have the resources,” DeRuwe said. “We were trying to keep it afloat and it isn’t working.”

Reporter Jonathan Brunt continued to this report.


There are 61 comments on this story. Click here to view comments >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email