Ditching patrol car removes a barrier, officers say
Bikes ensure lots of interaction
It’s Friday leading into Hoopfest and it’s the first really hot day of summer. Downtown sidewalks are full of basketball players and music is blaring from speakers on street corners. At the Spokane Police Department’s downtown precinct office – which had just opened the day before – senior patrol Officer Jim Christensen and Sgt. Dan Waters are getting ready to head out on bike patrol.
Their shift begins at 10 a.m. and runs until 8 p.m. They pick up their bikes in a backroom at the STA Plaza and, by 11 a.m., they roll down Post Street.
11:05 a.m.– A group of young people are sleeping on the sidewalk in front of Wheatland Bank – they are asked to leave.
An ordinance forbids sitting and lying on downtown sidewalks, Waters said. Asking people to leave is usually all it takes, though some have to be reminded later in the day.
The officers catch the Centennial Trail and head out toward Gonzaga University.
Lots of people are walking, bicycling and skateboarding on the trail.
Kids yell “Hello, officers!” as they ride by and they wave back.
Both officers said they like bike patrolling because it removes the barrier that’s usually created by the patrol car.
“People come up and talk to us, and we get to say hello and visit with folks,” Waters said, riding out toward Mission Park.
The stretch along the river from Hamilton Street to Mission Park is known for its homeless camps, but it’s a pretty quiet day.
There isn’t much going on in Mission Park, except a couple of sunbathers and a family getting ready to use a barbecue near the picnic shelter.
On the way back they crossed over Iron Bridge where a young, shirtless, tattooed man stops them.
11:45 a.m.– A young man says a suspicious bag is sitting on the bridge – officers look through it and find a shaver and a bit of clothing.
The young man keeps talking about how he wants to go swimming in the river.
“That’s not recommended,” Waters said, as the man walked off, staring at the cold water.
Following trails and dirt roads, “taking the scenic route” as Christensen put it, the bike patrol winds its way over to Trent Avenue and the Union Gospel Mission.
“We like to go through here just so we are visible,” Waters said.
Riding under the Hamilton overpass just north of Sprague Avenue, marmots scatter and a couple hanging out in the shade of the overpass get up when they see the bike patrol. The man looks the other way – the woman is twitchy and busy putting her top back on.
She smiles broadly and waves at officers.
“Have a nice day,” she yells.
She’s twitching and stretching, arching her back as she walks.
“That’s what using a lot of meth looks like,” Waters said, nodding at the woman, as the officers head back toward the Centennial Trail and downtown.
12:30 p.m.– Stop at the downtown fountain in the middle of Hoopfest setting up.
A park visitor comes up and asks the officers to arrest “the old guy in the fountain, because he has nothing to do there.”
The 50-something gentleman in bike shorts and nothing else does stand out among the squealing toddlers, but he’s not harassing anyone as he washes his armpits and waits for his T-shirt to dry on the metal fence.
The patrol continues through Hoopfest and lots of people ask for directions.
The proximity of food booths makes even a police officer’s stomach growl, but the two resist the temptation of hot dogs and teriyaki and get rolling again.
12:45 p.m.– Two panhandlers are asked to stop what they are doing and leave the intersection of Division Street and Third Avenue.
Riding through downtown alleys they hit the intersection of Division Street and Third Avenue and issue that day’s first round of panhandler warnings.
Waters chats with one of the panhandlers, while Christensen rides over and asks the other panhandler to leave.
“It’s tough. We issue lots of tickets and warnings to the panhandlers, but they don’t live anywhere and they rarely pay the ticket,” Christensen said as the patrol continues underneath the freeway.
Not much is going on there except a few piles of blankets left behind and the tell-tale smell of urine and beer.
12:56 p.m.– A young woman and a middle-age man in a black biker leather jacket decked with chains and Hells Angels insignias are hanging out behind a vacant building, charging a cell phone in an outdoor outlet.
Christensen stops to talk to the two and tell them to move on.
The man in the leather jacket launches in to a long story about Hells Angels in California and how he accidentally shot himself in the leg after he moved to Hillyard.
An elderly woman with a dog in a carrying case joins in, saying the man looks like someone who may have done something to her.
Then she changes her story. Everyone leaves peacefully and Christensen takes a moment to spray sunscreen on his arms and legs. It’s getting really hot by now.
The patrol continues toward the western end of downtown.
1:10 – A woman with a dog, bags of dog food and all her earthly possessions piled around her is sitting under a train overpass.
She’s asked to move on, but not until Waters has talked to her for a bit. He knows her. She tells him that she had a place to live for a couple of months, but just got evicted. She’s back on the street. Her dog is napping on the sun-warmed sidewalk.
“The shelters will not take the pets, and so the people refuse to go,” Waters said as he rides on, headed back toward the core of downtown.
1:20 – A woman asks the officers to check out a specific downtown alley where her car has been broken into and people hang out.
Waters makes a note of it and tells the woman they will check it out.
“That’s what I mean that people come up and talk to us. That wouldn’t have happened if we were in a patrol car,” he said.
1:30 – Waters stops to talk to a man who’s just had the back rim stolen off his bike while he was working out at a downtown gym.
1:35 – A mom asks the officers for stickers for her two wide-eyed toddlers.
The short visit turns into an impromptu photo session as the children get their picture taken with officers.
“No,” Waters said, “we are not going to pretend we are arresting them. We don’t want them to be afraid of us.”
The patrol is sadly out of Happy Meal coupons.
A few minutes later they meet up with a patrol officer outside the downtown COPS Shop coordinating things for later in the day.
A man walks up and mentions car break-ins in the same alley the woman just told the officers about.
It’s nearby, so they ride through, and a group of young people hanging out there gets up and leaves.
A little before 2 p.m., they stop back at the downtown precinct.
And so it goes on most days as the bike patrol rolls around downtown.
“It’s been a pretty normal shift so far,” Waters said. “Usually we have a few more fights to break up and arguments to settle. Not much of that today.”