Don’t be surprised if you see Spokane police officers cruising downtown on a Mule in the near future.
The first patrol officers assigned to a Kawasaki-manufactured utility vehicle hit the pavement in Riverfront Park on Tuesday. The Mule, resembling a golf cart complete with overhead roll cage and rear flatbed, was paid for with federal grant dollars and is a new tool in the police department’s efforts to curtail downtown crime, Spokane police Capt. Judi Carl said.
“We’re going to see how successful it is and what opportunities we have to use it,” Carl said. The force envisions using the vehicle on patrols downtown, along the Centennial Trail and around Spokane’s Riverpoint Campus.
“If it’s effective and efficient, we hope to maybe add some later,” Carl said.
Spokane police originally had three such vehicles on loan, but the lending company folded and the vehicles were reclaimed, Carl said. The department used $7,000 in federal grant money for a replacement vehicle, Spokane police spokeswoman Monique Cotton said. A fresh paint job, including the Spokane police crest, and some salvaged emergency lights completed the makeover. The vehicle was deemed ready for patrol Tuesday, despite its lack of rearview mirrors.
“That’s just a glitch; they sent us the wrong size,” Carl said, adding that the mirrors will be installed on the vehicle as soon as possible.
Officers Jennifer DeRuwe and Deanna Storch were the first to get behind the wheel, driving some circuits of the park for media before taking off on their beat.
“We’re ready to rock and roll,” Carl said.
Kawasaki lists the top speed of their Mule vehicles as 25 mph. Cotton said the vehicle is designed to speed up an officer on foot patrol but not take the place of patrol cars. The Mule has the added advantage of making officers more accessible, Cotton said, by allowing pedestrians to walk up to patrol officers without the barrier of glass or a door between them. The flatbed affords many potential uses, Cotton said, including carting rescue equipment or helping move an injured person.
The department is tying the new rig to its renewed emphasis on downtown law enforcement. That includes opening a downtown substation at Riverside Avenue and Post Street last June and beefing up patrols in the area. Cotton noted police statistics show violent crime downtown has fallen more than 13 percent this year compared to 2012 and has dropped 20 percent over the past month.
“This is all part of the downtown effort,” Carl said. “This is our responsibility – the downtown area, Kendall Yards – it’s just keeping people safe on the Centennial Trail and having our presence there.”