Citizen concerns over Millwood’s recent crime spike brought Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich to Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting.
“During the second quarter we had a rash of burglaries,” Knezovich said. He said the city had 15 more property crimes this year compared to the same time period last year. “Overall it’s not a significant jump, but we have had that burglary situation which we have identified.”
Knezovich said the Sheriff’s Department is addressing the problem, and as a result there was only one reported crime between June 5 and June 25.
“They have developed plans to help curb whatever issues you’re facing here in Millwood,” Knezovich said.
“My wife and I have lived here for 23 years and it’s been safe,” said longtime resident Cal Ferguson, who was at the meeting with his wife, Laura. “Now all of a sudden it’s horrible. We can’t leave home.”
The Fergusons’ home was burglarized three times within a month.
“I stayed up the next night after being burglarized two nights in a row and I was surprised – not once during the night did a patrol car come down the street.” Ferguson said. “What am I suppose to do? I’ve been hit three times.”
Knezovich said that “hot spots” of crime can develop in an area, but overall in Spokane County, burglaries are down 22 percent from 2012 to 2013 and that violent crime is at the lowest level it’s been in two decades.
“That’s fairly significant,” Knezovich said. “Given the fact that we’re still in a fairly economic depressed state and our personnel is still an issue.”
Knezovich said the Sheriff’s Office lost 34 staff members over the past five years due to budget cuts.
Besides the decrease in personnel, Knezovich went on to explain overcrowding at the Spokane County jail and Geiger Corrections Center results in short jail time for some offenders.
“Here’s the harsh reality: Spokane County has known since 1995 that the Spokane County jail is overcrowded,” Knezovich said, explaining the facility was designed for 464 inmates and last weekend the jail reached 650 inmates. “(We) need to develop the political courage” to start dealing with these issues, he added.
Attorney Brian Werst asked Knezovich about the two new marijuana businesses on Trent Avenue – located just 650 feet apart.
“It is a concern for the city just in terms that we now have two facilities in this new and growing industry,” Werst said. “And we’re not sure how the law enforcement side plays out from there.”
Knezovich said the city’s contract with the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t provide full-time deputies inside the city. Millwood is part of a larger district maintained and policed by one deputy and one detective. The entire district covers 68 square miles.
Mayor Kevin Freeman asked what it would cost to have a dedicated deputy for the city. Knezovich said it would cost an estimated $800,000 a year for five deputies giving 24-hour coverage.
At the end of his presentation, Knezovich encouraged citizen involvement.
“We are most effective dealing with crime when you citizens are involved,” Knezovich said. “Folks, it’s critical you report crime.”