Barb Lee only looks like a sweet, little old white-haired lady.
This is a woman who once chased down the hit-and-run driver who sideswiped her Ford at a Seattle intersection. She put the pedal to the metal and rammed his beater Chrysler off the road.
“Stupid me, I walked up to his car, grabbed him by the shirt and dragged him out,” she says, laughing. “You don’t mess with Barbara.”
That was 15 years ago. Today, Barb would be content to just do the ramming and wait in her car for the cops.
“I’ve slowed down now that I’m 70,” she admits. “But I’m still one tough old broad.”
Which explains why Barb won’t quit until she nails the burglar who ransacked her tidy South Hill home in May.
The creep took her prized jewelry, silver dollar collection and a checkbook he used to cash $750 worth of forged checks.
Weeks of Barb’s dogged detective work paid off:
She has the name of a likely suspect. She found a store owner who knows where the shady character lives. The only thing keeping Barb from a happy ending is a complete lack of interest from the Spokane Police Department.
Barb’s $3,000 case is just too piddling to deal with.
“The Police Department has become one big voice mail system,” she says. If you’re lucky enough to reach a live person you get referred to someone else who isn’t in.
“I’m so disgusted with the way this is proceeding I could just puke.”
I sampled a fraction of Barb’s frustration trying to find out what was going on. Calls to two officers got me voice mail. No returns.
A third call got me a secretary who knew the person I should talk to. I dialed the number she gave me and got - guess what? - more voice mail.
Fortunately, a knowledgeable police source who didn’t want to be named returned my call. He described rank and file officers as frustrated beyond belief by all the “solvable crimes they can’t get to.”
It’s a numbers game, he says. The system is overloaded with low-priority crimes. Too few bodies are assigned to handle the glut.
This is the legacy of the soon-to-be retired Chief Terry Mangan, says my source.
Mangan was undeniably brilliant at raising federal dollars to fund innovative crime prevention programs. He did little to add detectives or clerical staff to deal with the mountains of small cases.
For example: Only one or two people make up the entire check fraud division. So few cases get solved that detectives laughingly call check forgery in Spokane a license to steal.
“We’re getting more information on crimes than ever before,” my source says. “We’ve got people handing us suspects. But there’s no room in the system to deal effectively with somebody who makes a career out of stealing stuff.”
Joe Blumel, another 70-year-old, can vouch for this nightmare. The owner of a number of downtown apartment buildings, Joe is always having to call the police for one mini-crisis or another.
“I don’t want to get into horror stories, but I’ve got a million of them,” he says. “I had a burglary not long ago and the cop said to me, ‘What do you want me to do about it?’
‘I said, ‘What business are you in?”’
Some fool recently threw a brick through one of Joe’s windows. He chased the culprit down and waited for a cop.
“He thought I’d be better off taking the guy to civil court,” says Joe. “Unbelievable.”
That crime pays in Spokane is infuriating. Our next police chief should be someone more interested in solving day-to-day crimes than flying out of town to give speeches at police academies.
“My burglary may be petty to the police, but it’s not to me,” says Barb. “I’d like to think the authorities were for the victims, not the criminals.”
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