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Deputies make prevention priority

Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputies Travis Pendell and Greg Snyder were sitting in their tiny Spokane Valley Mall office talking about their work in crime prevention Tuesday afternoon when they suddenly got up and rushed out of the room. A loss prevention officer from a store had run up, pointed to a group of three young women walking out the mall doors and accused one of them of stealing a jacket.

Pendell and Snyder stopped the women and searched their oversized purses and shopping bag, finding the jacket. “It was in the bag,” Snyder said. The woman accused of taking the jacket was taken to the mall security office until she could be taken to jail. Snyder said the store she allegedly stole from has a hands-off policy for thieves, meaning employees can’t detain them.

“She would have gotten away,” he said.

Having the two deputies in their office was just luck, since both men work outside of the office most of the time. “It’s not very often that we’re right there when they need us,” Pendell said.

Both deputies are crime prevention specialists. Snyder covers the city of Spokane Valley and Pendell works in unincorporated Spokane County. The small office by the west entrance of the Spokane Valley Mall opened in 2008. It is manned by volunteers from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and the two deputies drop in occasionally.

The work they do ranges from neighborhood watch to fraud prevention to drug awareness. They do security evaluations of homes and businesses and give classes to anyone who asks. They talk to neighborhood groups about vehicle prowls and burglaries and how to prevent them. “Pretty much anything you can make a crime out of, we can try to prevent,” Pendell said.

There’s no such thing as a typical day, except that it’s pretty much a given that it isn’t a 9 to 5 job. “It’s different all the time,” Snyder said. “We service our customers. We’re working evenings, we’re working weekends.”

Snyder said there’s one simple rule he teaches when he talks about fraud, identity theft and investment fraud. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” he said.

Some frauds are easy to spot, but there are crooks with a more refined approach. “We’ve got some pretty smart people out there,” Snyder said. “If we could only get them to work in a way that’s more beneficial to society. They’re not necessarily stupid.”

Crime isn’t limited to certain neighborhoods, Pendell said. “There’s no class of people, there’s no socioeconomic group in Spokane that’s exempt,” he said.

Both deputies also teach classes for law enforcement officers. “We respond to crime trends,” Snyder said. “We respond to public need.”

They also visit a lot of schools to talk about safety and crime prevention, sometimes accompanied by McGruff the Crime Dog. Pendell said he’s been known to wear the McGruff costume in a pinch. “I try really hard not to,” he said.

Pendell has been doing crime prevention work for eight years and Snyder has done it for 17 years. Both say they find the work just as satisfying as being on patrol – if not more so. “Less adrenaline but more job satisfaction,” Pendell said. “When I leave a neighborhood or leave a house, I know they’re safer.”

The job isn’t just about responding to whatever bad thing has happened, he said. “We get to talk to kids,” he said. “That’s where we really make a difference.”

“We’re jack of all trades,” Snyder said. “We’re relied on to do a lot of different stuff.”

Snyder said he plans to go back to patrol in March, primarily to give someone else a chance to do the job. With recent staffing cuts in the Sheriff’s Office it’s hard for deputies to have the opportunity do something different, he said. “It’s been fun,” Snyder said. “I never thought I’d be a teacher, but I am. A teacher with a gun.”