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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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COPS sets its sights on crime

Spokane’s COPS Downtown organization is spearheading a new community-based effort to clean up prostitution, drug dealing, gang fights and other inner-city problems at three specific locations in the city’s urban core.

City Council members Tuesday got a briefing on the latest efforts to combat crime at Main and Division, the 400 block of West Sprague, and 2nd and Cedar. The report came during the council’s annual town hall meeting with neighborhood groups in the southwest part of the city.

Betty Findley, of COPS Downtown, said she has been working with police, neighborhood leaders, the Downtown Spokane Partnership, property owners and business owners in mounting a block-to-block attack on urban crime.

Security ambassadors for the Downtown Spokane Partnership videotaped alleged criminal activity in parking lots along the 400 block of West Sprague and used the evidence to help gain cooperation from property owners, she said.

Parking lot owners have posted no-loitering and no-trespassing signs, giving police greater authority to investigate suspicious activity on private property, Findley said.

Benches that had been used for loitering by vagrants were removed at the bus and train depot at Sprague and Bernard.

Authorities are considering legal action against the owner of an apartment building that has been linked to criminal problems in the downtown area, she said.

Findley called on city police to resume bike patrols next summer despite budget cuts.

Work has stalled on an effort to combat prostitution and drug dealing at 2nd and Cedar, in part because some surrounding property owners have yet to become involved, Findley said.

Even so, Gary Pollard, chairman of the Riverside Neighborhood Council, said the efforts have been “making remarkable progress” in slowing down urban crime. He said downtown crime prevention is crucial for the city’s efforts to foster conventions and tourism.

The people involved in the effort have dubbed their meetings as “cappuccino” groups, which is a loose acronym for “citizens and police partnering under the common cause of improving neighborhoods one” block at a time.

Council members also were told that the city’s decision to cut funding for neighborhood planning has stopped some neighborhoods from gaining a measure of control over future land-use development in their areas.

Janet Anderson, chairwoman of the Browne’s Addition Neighborhood Council, said her organization wanted to develop a detailed neighborhood plan to encourage preservation of the historic character of the area, but has now been stymied by a withdrawal of staff support from the planning department.

Mayor Jim West cut the planning budget last year and moved several planners to a new division of economic development.

Brian Belsby, of the Latah/Hangman Valley Neighborhood Council, said residents in his area want to have a say in the way commercial and residential growth occurs in his neighborhood as well.

Kevin Holland, chairman of the West Hills Neighborhood Council, echoed Belsby’s comments. He said residential growth on the west side of the city has heightened residents’ concerns about managing growth.

Belsby also said the neighborhood is wondering when the state will make proposed improvements to U.S. Highway 195. Residents must negotiate potentially dangerous intersections at Cheney-Spokane and Meadowlane roads and a dilapidated stretch of Qualchan Drive, but the state has not set a timetable for proposed interchanges and access roads, he said.

Sue Drury and Bud Hull, of the COPS Southwest organization, said their greatest success in 2004 was rehabilitating the 1600 block of West 6th Avenue, an area that had been troubled by crime.

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