April 6, 2013 in Opinion

Editorial: Teaming up fights both criminals, perception

 

The region is unquestionably on edge about crime, so the announcement about the regional effort among law enforcement agencies was certainly timely, if not overdue.

Spokane is No. 1 in the state for property crimes, and the city has seen an 11 percent increase over the first three months of this year.

What’s made the fatal shooting of a car thief understandable to many people is the perception that they’ve been abandoned. Fueling that feeling was the notion that the Spokane Police Department had disbanded its property crime unit because of a manpower shortage.

Some city leaders say this was never the case; it was merely a ploy to extract more money for the Police Department. Others say that the misperception is rooted in semantics. The unit never died, they say, it just took on a different form.

Whatever the reality, the perception was allowed to grow, and it has spawned the belief that it’s essentially fruitless to report property crimes. This poses dangers of its own, with some citizens feeling the need to take aggressive action to protect themselves and their belongings rather than rely on police.

If nothing else, this perception should be dampened with Wednesday’s announcement that law enforcement agencies plan to pool resources to target burglary hot spots and likely perpetrators. Joining the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and the Spokane Police Department in this effort are the agencies from Airway Heights, Cheney, Liberty Lake and Kootenai County in Idaho.

Spokane police Chief Frank Straub is confident that concentrated efforts will be effective, because they have been in downtown. He says a task force has driven down crime by 17 percent in the city’s center by incorporating a more analytical approach. He has committed 22 officers to a bureau that will work with other agencies to try to do the same across the region. To track those efforts, people can log on to spokanepolice.org/leftnav/crimemap.

The rapid response Tuesday night to a burglary in progress in northeast Spokane is a good sign. A gutsy 63-year-old woman got the drop on a man who had broken into her home, and held him a gunpoint. Police were able to respond within two minutes because they were actively investigating a nearby burglary.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich also points to smarter policing for a 53 percent drop in residential burglaries in unincorporated areas. But, he says, tactical changes will only go so far, and other areas of the criminal justice system need to be bolstered.

We need stricter sentences for career thieves, along with a stronger regimen of treatment programs that would divert criminals from a life of crime. We can free up some money by de-emphasizing the pursuit of low-level nonviolent crimes that pose little danger to the community.

There’s more to fighting crime than producing better statistics. People also want a sense of safety that numbers cannot achieve. A visible commitment to battling property crimes should help.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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