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Washington Voices

COPS on lookout for new shop

Thu., Sept. 15, 2011, midnight

Volunteers rely on generous landlords for space

All the Community Oriented Policing Stations in Spokane have their own housing arrangements.

Most rely on the charity of a landlord who charges next to nothing for them to use the space they are in. That’s the case with COPS East Central, which has been in the former Polar Inn just west of Fred Meyer on Fifth Avenue for quite some time. Now there’s a problem: the landlord is putting the building up for sale.

“We may be looking for a new home very soon,” said longtime volunteer Lois D’Ewart. “Maybe we will move back over on Sprague. We don’t know. And we don’t know when the building will sell.”

COPS East Central has been around since 1994 and its first location was on Sprague Avenue near what’s now called the International District. However, volunteers would prefer to stay where they are – at the heart of the neighborhood they serve.

“Each COPS shop location is significant to each neighborhood; it matches its neighborhood,” said Sue Hille, another longtime volunteer.

The COPS shop has paid taxes and maintenance on the building, but no rent.

There is no money in the budget for rent at a new place, Hille said, so the COPS shop is hoping it will connect with another generous landlord.

“We do a lot of the maintenance ourselves,” said volunteer Betsy Rosenberg. “We have fixed a lot of the stuff here over the years.”

The neighborhood has been fixed, too.

“If you lived here prior to the COPS shop coming in, you’d see how much it has changed,” said D’Ewart, who quickly gives a lot of credit to volunteers preceding her and the current staff.

Rosenberg said she decided to volunteer at COPS East Central in 2007 because someone broke into her house.

“There were homeless people all over the place nearby,” said Rosenberg. “They broke into my house before we were even done working on it and stole a lot of tools.” When burglary attempts followed, Rosenberg decided it was time for her to volunteer.

Today, there are still homeless people in the neighborhood and sometimes COPS volunteers find themselves in situations that have more to do with social work than crime prevention.

“So many of the homeless have mental health issues,” said Hille. “They don’t have anyone else to talk to, but we are here. We can’t always help them, but at least we can listen.”

COPS East Central would like to bring back the neighborhood observation patrols, or NOPS.

“There are a lot of people around Grant Park who are working really hard to make that area safer,” said Hille. “But it’s difficult to get a commitment from people.” She added that COPS’ primary purpose is to help the neighborhood resource officer.

Information gathered by NOPS volunteers is sent to the Spokane Police Department and may be helpful in cases of suspected drug houses and other criminal activity.

“There is no risk involved in NOPS – you just observe and report,” said Hille. “Our neighborhood resource officer really needs that. It would be nice to bring that back.”

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