Law enforcement officers in Spokane and Kootenai counties announced plans to crack down on property crimes following a series of confrontations involving homeowners firing gunshots at suspected criminals.
Top lawmen said Wednesday they will pool manpower and information into a regionwide task force to target the most troubled neighborhoods, then follow perpetrators back to their hideouts.
Day-to-day analysis of crime hot spots and likely culprits will guide the new Property Crime Task Force.
“It is going to take a multifaceted approach to break this trend,” Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said. He was joined by Spokane police Chief Frank Straub and top officers from Airway Heights, Cheney, Liberty Lake and North Idaho’s Kootenai County.
“These crimes know no boundaries,” Airway Heights police Chief Lee Bennett said.
They want to enlist citizens’ help by reporting crimes and suspicious activity, and participating in anti-crime programs such as local Block Watches and COPS shops.
“The battle will be won at the neighborhood level,” Knezovich said.
Spokane police have begun applying task force techniques to crime hot spots, including 29th Avenue, which has seen a string of commercial burglaries, and the downtown core.
While the city of Spokane has seen an 11 percent increase in crime in the first three months of 2013, there is reason for hope, Straub said. He credits task force efforts with a 17 percent drop in downtown crime in the past month and a much smaller 3 percent decline citywide in recent weeks.
Police sent task force officers downtown and sought help from mental-health providers, probation officers, faith-based charities and even animal control personnel to deal with problems, he said.
Straub said the city is moving 22 of its officers into a strategic and tactical operations bureau to have them work with police and deputies across the region, including neighborhood resource officers.
City residents can track what’s happening block to block.
Public versions of the weekly crime reports in the city are available online at spokanepolice.org/leftnav/crimemap/.
Tuesday’s quick response to a residential burglary in northeast Spokane, where a 63-year-old woman fired a shot at a man who busted through her door and then held him at gunpoint for police, is an example of how crime analysis works. Officers were already in her neighborhood because they had identified it as a likely spot based on earlier crimes, he said.
“Last night, we had a good result,” the chief said. “Our crime analysts had predicted that block was the most probable” for more crime.
Knezovich said his department has been developing what it calls an “intelligence led policing” protocol to anticipate rather than react to crime, he said.
Identifying crime patterns, active criminal groups and interconnected crimes can lead to more efficient use of law enforcement resources. Intelligence gathered throughout the community can help get the process started, he said.
Knezovich said residential burglaries dropped 53 percent in the first three months of this year in unincorporated parts of the county while garage burglaries were down 38 percent. However, commercial burglaries were up 35 percent.
Crime reports compiled by the FBI through 2011 show that crime in the area has been rising steadily since about 2007 and exceeds the state average, especially in the city of Spokane.
Knezovich said crime numbers were under reported for several years when the city and county suspended the Crime Check reporting system from 2005 through 2008. Citizens made fewer reports as a result. It was reinstated in 2009.
The sheriff said law enforcement needs prosecutors and courts to make sure that prolific criminals get enough time behind bars to slow the problem.
“The problem is we are not getting significant enough sentences out of our arrests,” he said.
Criminals who might benefit from treatment programs are not getting enough time in jail or prison to take advantage of the classes and substance-abuse work they need to change their lives, Knezovich said.
For crimes in progress and other emergencies, call 911.
To report about a crime that has already occurred in Spokane County, call Crime Check at 456-2233. In Kootenai County, the non-emergency number is (208) 446-1850.