The Spokane Police Department launched two new outreach efforts Thursday, both designed to get officers closer and more involved with the communities they serve.
One involves the opening of a new police substation in the Peyton Building near the downtown Spokane Transit Authority Plaza staffed by officers and volunteers daily. The other is a recreational basketball league coached by officers for at-risk youth at certain city parks.
In establishing the new downtown substation, Mayor David Condon and police Chief Frank Straub worked with the Downtown Spokane Partnership, the property owner and the Spokane Transit Authority.
“This facility will allow us to place police resources closer to and accessible to citizen needs,” Straub said. “We are also placing police resources closer to the business community, the downtown residents and our visitors. Through data-driven policing and the effective placement of resources, the Spokane Police Department is reducing crime.”
While crime continues to climb in Spokane overall, violent crime and property crime have dropped about 15 percent downtown after Straub assigned additional officers to the downtown beat at the beginning of this year. He hopes the downtown facility will further that trend.
“There is more work to be done,” he said. “This new downtown facility will help us continue to drive down crime and help keep the city of Spokane safe.”
The facility also will serve as a community resource with an information desk, and as a hub for downtown Neighborhood Conditions Officers and bike patrols.
The Downtown Spokane Partnership is funding the three-year lease through the Downtown Business Improvement District, which it operates on the city’s behalf. Business Improvement District funding comes from more than 850 business owners and 350 downtown property owners. It also provides funding for the Police Department’s downtown bike patrol.
They are still hashing out the details of the lease and don’t know how much it will cost, said Marla Nunberg, vice president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership. The Spokane Transit Authority is providing seven parking spaces for police vehicles at its nearby facility and will continue to fund a downtown police officer position.
“It’s about being the safest community of our size,” Condon said.
In another move aimed at preventing crime, the police department has partnered with community leaders to start a summer basketball program for at-risk youth.
“The goal is to increase respect, understanding and good will” between police, community leaders and participating youth, said project manager Ben Krauss, a Police Department analyst.
“We’re doing our best to make Spokane a safer city,” Krauss said.
The Spokane Police Youth Athletic League basketball program kicked off Thursday at Liberty Park.
Police officers and community leaders will serve as coaches for the 40 fourth- through eighth-graders participating in the 10-week pilot program, which culminates in a tournament, an awards ceremony and a barbecue.
The all-volunteer program is funded by donations.
The children painted over graffiti Wednesday to earn their jerseys, which were donated by Nike, and also get free basketballs and a backpack with school supplies at the end of the program. The Spokane Police Guild and Spokane Police Lieutenants and Captains Association funded the supplies.
Parks can become recruiting grounds for the gangs and for drug dealers, especially during the idle summer months, said Pastor Shon Davis, himself a former gang member. The program, which is the first of its kind in Spokane, targets youth from high-crime or impoverished communities.
“Those kids get lost in the system,” Davis said.
There is no cost to the children who participate.
“I think it’s going to be very successful,” Davis said. “There’s a lot of positive energy. I could see this growing.”
Straub was one of three coaches on the team Swagtastic.