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City’s core a unique law enforcement challenge

Decades ago crime used to be such a problem in downtown Spokane that even new officers patrolling the beat have heard the horror stories. But a downtown precinct, special bar patrols and an increased emphasis on the downtown area have curbed some of the bad behavior.

Spokane police Lt. Steve Braun said police don’t see as many major felony crimes downtown.

““It’s more nuisance-type stuff,” he said.

Robberies and burglaries are fairly uncommon downtown, but there have been issues with transients. The No. 1 issue is vehicle prowling. “Some of those happen at 1 o’clock in the afternoon,” Braun said.

There are up to five officers on patrol at once in the downtown area, which stretches from Interstate 90 to Riverfront Park and from the University District to Browne’s Addition, Braun said. There are an additional two to four officers on duty for bar patrol on Friday and Saturday nights.

“Their presence downtown helps a lot,” Braun said.

The bar patrol ended earlier this year due to budget issues, but that didn’t last long. Within a couple of months there was an increase in assaults and fights and the bar owners asked to have the extra patrols back, Braun said.

Before 2013 there were no officers assigned downtown, said Sgt. Kurtis Reece. It was simply the dividing line between the north and south patrol areas and didn’t get much attention. “It really left downtown wide open,” he said.

It was reminiscent of the days of “the block,” which referred to the 1100 block of West First Avenue. It was a concentrated location for shootings, stabbings, drug dealing and prostitution about 20 years ago. “It was just out of control,” Reece said.

In the late ’90s the Police Department created “David Sector,” which encompassed a slightly larger area than today’s downtown patrol borders. Police cracked down on crime and focused on cleaning up the area. It worked, but the effort was a victim of its own success. David Sector was disbanded and downtown was once again left without a focused police effort.

In 2013 there began to be more issues downtown, including assaults by groups of teenagers. “It created a very negative and unsafe environment,” Reece said.

That’s when a downtown police precinct was created and officers were assigned specifically to patrol downtown, Reece said. Now the area is revitalized and more major retailers are moving in. “It’s absolutely better than it used to be,” he said.

But Reece sees problems on the horizon. Several new apartment projects are being built or have just been completed downtown. A larger resident population means more opportunity for crime, he said.

“That’s going to require more police officers and services downtown,” he said. “Even putting more officers downtown isn’t enough to cover every street corner every day.”

Patrolling downtown is different from other parts of town, Reece said. “You’re in such a concentrated area, you can get there quicker,” he said.

That means that officers can usually spend more time on calls and focus on dealing with the underlying problems, Reece said. If the problems aren’t dealt with, they’ll just crop up again the next day or the next week.

“Downtown really has to be community-policing-based,” he said. “The officers who work downtown usually know everybody. They may arrest them, but the next day they’re laughing and talking with them. It creates that accountability on both sides.”


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