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City considering COPS reform

Fri., Nov. 23, 2012, midnight

Program leaders want more input on cost-cutting moves

Spokane’s relationship with nonprofit Community Oriented Policing Services was jolted this month as the city considers program changes at the neighborhood centers it funds.

COPS board Chairman Jack Brucick sent a letter dated Nov. 7 to police Chief Frank Straub and neighborhood services Director Jonathan Mallahan, raising concerns the city was “seeking to unilaterally alter the relationship between itself and COPS, without the necessary negotiations” by moving forward with program changes.

Earlier this year, Mayor David Condon transferred the contract between the city and COPS from the Spokane Police Department to the Community and Neighborhood Services division.

Brucick’s letter said the COPS board was alarmed to discover that the city, which provides funding for the program’s leases and administration, sent a 90-day notice of lease termination to the landlord for the Greater Spokane COPS Shop without giving the board any notice, but Mallahan said Wednesday the downtown shop will remain in its current location for now.

“The leases that the city was committed to for the COPS program were greater than there was budget to support them,” he said. “So we’ve been making up those lease obligations by making transfers into the COPS program budget, which was not something we wanted to continue doing in 2013.”

However, he said, they have renegotiated the lease with the property management company, getting a month-to-month lease with significant cost reductions, Mallahan said.

“We’re working with the COPS program and the Police Department to determine long term what the future of the downtown COPS shop will be, but for now there are no changes,” he said.

Talks got off to a contentious start, but city and COPS officials met this week to discuss the contract and possible changes to the COPS program. While they declined to go into much detail about the negotiations, both sides said the contract, which expires at the end of the year, will likely remain the same next year.

COPS is a nonprofit organization separate from the city of Spokane. It develops its own programs and hires its own staff but receives city funding: $186,550 for 2012.

The two parties are discussing the possibility of expanding the services offered at COPS shops. Those services could include a self-serve kiosk for visitors to complete other city business, such as paying utility bills or applying for simple permits.

They may also integrate more neighborhood services that could include resources for jobs, housing and food.

“We need to have those conversations with the COPS program to work out what fits and what doesn’t, but we would like to use assets at our COPS shops to help our citizens access a gamut of services,” Mallahan said.

Director Christy Hamilton said the COPS board’s biggest concern with any changes is maintaining the integrity of the program and its core mission: crime prevention.

“These discussions have to be well thought out and the programs well placed,” she said. “I am very interested in growing the program. I would love for us to be bigger, badder, better, but it has to be done right.”

She added, “I want my volunteers to be a part of that process. They’re the ones that implement the programs.”

Another concern is the possibility that volunteers passionate about law enforcement may not be as attracted to the program if it’s not part of the Police Department, or if other services are added. Board member Mike Yates said it’s important to preserve the dedicated core of volunteers.

“The less officers you have on the street, the less eyes that are out there,” Yates said. “It’s important for the citizens, then, to be more vigilant. The oldest form of crime prevention is the citizens, the citizens taking responsibility for their own neighborhoods.”

Mallahan said the two are working together to ensure the close relationship the program has with the Police Department remains intact.

The program has more than 250 volunteers, as well as three full-time staff and a grant-funded position that work in the Monroe Court Building. The city is offering free space in City Hall for COPS administrative staff to reduce ongoing operational costs for the organization, but it’s unknown if they’ll take the offer.

“We still have a lot of talking to do,” Hamilton said. “There are still some concerns that need to be ironed out.”

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