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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Police jumping on bikes to fight crime

Thomas Clouse Staff writer

A downtown banking supervisor recently was walking in the alley behind her building, at 111 N. Wall St., when a man decided it was time to relieve himself. Right there in front of her.

“We’ve had vandalism. I’ve had drug deals right in front of me,” said Ami Wills, office supervisor at Sterling Savings Bank.

On Thursday, a group of youths got into a fight just outside her office. Their presence, and resulting customer complaints, forced the business to hire one, and later, two security guards.

“We’ve been trying to get the police to come through more,” she said. “When they do show up … that’s usually the only way the kids get up and move.”

Similar concerns from other business owners, including Davenport Hotel owner Walt Worthy, led to a meeting in May with Mayor Jim West and Spokane Police Assistant Chief Jim Nicks. The result was an agreement to restart a bike patrol in the downtown area, Police Chief Roger Bragdon said.

“We are getting a lot of complaints from downtown business people about a lack of response, a lack of police presence, and it’s legitimate,” he said at a meeting this week. “Basically what you have to do is provide a presence. You have to show a police uniform once in a while.

“Of course, we are busy, and we are busy all day long.”

The city cut 75 firefighters and officers earlier this year, and the city is facing an expected budget shortfall of about $6 million. Despite the prospect of more layoffs, Mayor West found enough money to restart the bike patrol last week for downtown.

But the money isn’t coming from the police budget.

Deputy Mayor Jack Lynch said the $45,000 was allocated out of funds that were set aside to pay lawyers for the legal battle over River Park Square. Since that legal case has been settled, the money is “now available for services,” Lynch said.

Six police officers volunteered for the shifts, which will pay overtime rates. Only two bike officers will patrol at any one time during the shifts that run from late afternoon until 3 a.m.

“Most of our problems occur when the bars close,” Bragdon said. “When all those bars close, especially on a Friday or Saturday night, the downtown area is not a place to be, at least for about half an hour.”

The city had a bike patrol downtown for about 10 years until last September, when it ended the School Resource Officer program. Many of those officers jumped on bicycles during the summer months and patrolled the downtown.

Police spokesman Dick Cottam said some bike patrol officers, who require special training and equipment, sometimes are assigned to patrol specific areas, such as during special events.

Marty Dickinson, president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, praised the city for its decision to bring back the bike patrol.

“There is definitely an appreciation by the business community to have a police presence downtown,” Dickinson said. “When you are having things like vandalism, panhandling and groups of kids that congregate in certain areas in the evening, those are things that can be solved by a police presence.”

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