The Spokane Valley Police Department targeted vehicle prowls and garage burglaries, netting 20 arrests.
After the success of the emphasis patrol from mid-November to mid-December, the department is working to find a better way to work intelligence about crime patterns into its everyday workload, said property crimes Sgt. John Nowels.
“We know it works,” he said. “We’re working on strategies to do this all the time.”
The emphasis patrols came after police saw burglary numbers spike during the summer and fall. The area east of Pines Road saw the biggest jump last year, with garage burglaries going from an average of 12.7 a month to 30 in October alone.
“We saw just a huge, huge increase in numbers,” Nowels said.
The department pulled four officers off patrol and teamed them with two property crimes detectives to work a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift during the week. Top vehicle prowling nights are Mondays and Wednesdays, Nowels said.
The detectives gathered intelligence to tell the deputies where to go and whom to watch.
“We snagged a couple of informants,” Nowels said.
Police were able to identify three primary groups doing the prowls and garage burglaries. They were able to catch people prowling cars or carrying burglary tools or drugs. Some were wanted on warrants.
“We arrested them for everything we could,” he said.
The officers made it a point to target people they knew or suspected were involved in the crimes. One house in particular was a nexus for crime, but those residents are now gone, Nowels said. “They moved out because they got tired of being talked to by police every time they walked out the door,” he said.
During the emphasis, the number of vehicle prowls in the area east of Sullivan Road to the Spokane Valley city limits dropped by 44 percent. The number of prowls in the entire city dropped 24 percent compared to the same period in 2011. Garage burglaries were reduced by 25 percent in the area east of Pines Road.
In December, a police search of one home netted 57 items of stolen property and solved several burglaries. The owners of some of the items have not been identified.
“We know it’s stolen, but we don’t know where it’s stolen from,” he said. The department has pictures of the recovered items on its Facebook page in the “Case #12-397659 Recovered Property” album.
Stolen items that were clearly marked with names or other identifying marks were returned to owners that night, Nowels said. “I love giving stuff back to people,” he said.
Nowels said people can help prevent crime by locking their cars and removing valuables such as purses, wallets and laptops. A surprising number of vehicle prowls involve unlocked cars. It’s rare for a locked car to be broken into if there is nothing valuable visible, he said.
“Usually if they’re breaking a window, they see something they want,” he said. “If there’s nothing in there to steal, you will be left alone.”
The pleasure of success is tempered by the frustration felt when those arrested are quickly released from jail, Nowels said. It’s not uncommon for police to arrest a repeat offender for new crimes while he’s awaiting trial on previous charges.
“I suppose it makes it easy to know who is doing what,” he said. “When we get a spike out there, it could be one guy doing it.”
Many of the people arrested during the emphasis are back out on the streets and the vehicle prowling rate is creeping up again but hasn’t gotten as high as the spikes seen last year, Nowels said.
“We were able to knock them down, but they’re back,” he said.