March 31, 2012 in City

Property crimes to get new focus

Spokane authorities say they’ll beef up investigative efforts
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Workshop

The city of Spokane and Spokane Police Department are holding a workshop as part of National Crime Victims Rights Week, which is April 23 through April 28.

The workshop will be held Tuesday, April 24, from 7 p.m. to 8 at the West Central Community Center, 1603 N. Belt St. Citizens will have an opportunity to discuss the changes to property crimes investigations, learn about volunteer opportunities and provide input on the search for a new police chief.

City leaders on Friday announced a new plan to investigate property crimes in Spokane that involves more investigators, a greater focus on crime trends and larger investments in technology.

The changes are part of an effort to reinvigorate property crimes investigations in the city after budget cuts eliminated eight property crimes detectives last summer and the department told the public only 5 percent of crimes would be investigated.

“We heard this from the citizenry – property crimes are important. Property crimes are a priority. Property crimes are what they want us looking at and trying to address,” interim police Chief Scott Stephens said.

The city is already investigating more property crimes than it has in recent months, though the number of property crimes investigations assigned to detectives is still down significantly compared with January 2011, according to data provided Friday by the Spokane Police Department. About 125 cases were assigned then. That dropped to about 75 assignments last October, then about 50 in January. It increased last month to about 75, and police hope the upward trend will continue.

Other changes being made by police include:

• A new “focused area emphasis” initiative that involves patrol officers spending 15 minutes in areas of the city that are considered hot spots for crime.

• The hiring of a crime analyst to better coordinate with patrol officers and investigators and increase efficiency.

• A new crime-tracking system that allows analysts to detect crime trends.

Stephens and other police leaders detailed the changes at a press conference Friday with Mayor David Condon. The mayor said he’s looking to develop a data-driven method of fighting property crime.

“We need to look at where the data is driving us,” Condon said. “That’s what the public wants to know, that’s what I want to know, are we putting our resources in the right place.”

In addition to transferring a fraud-unit detective to property crimes, the department will also assign officers who can only work light duty because of injuries.

Police also plan to increase coordination with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and to continue to focus on repeat offenders believed to be responsible for the majority of crime.

“What we’re trying to do is take a look at those areas we can be most effective in,” Stephens said. “Rather than spread our resources out randomly and then get random results back, we wanted to be more focused in our efforts.”

Capt. Frank Scalise said 50 percent of crimes in Spokane occur in about 6.5 percent of the city. Patrol officers will now focus on those problem areas for 10 to 15 minutes at a time when not responding to 911 calls, which remain their top priority.

Scalise said crime analysts and detectives will continue to work with two teams of patrol officers who don’t respond to calls but focus on repeat offenders and crime trends as directed by investigators.

Police also will continue to use a countywide program that targets repeat offenders through coordinated efforts among law enforcement, the Department of Corrections and the county prosecutor’s office.

Condon said the city will work with the tourism division to encourage visitors to keep parked cars clear of valuables.

“We need to be better and smarter than the criminals so that they know Spokane is not where they want to be operating,” Condon said.

Meanwhile, property crimes fell in Spokane last year compared with 2010.

While overall property crime decreased by just three incidents – 15,039 last year, compared with 15,042 in 2010 – home burglaries were down 4 percent, vehicle prowls fell 3 percent and car theft, for which Spokane was ranked fourth-highest in the nation in 2010, fell 11 percent.


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