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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Council addresses recent downtown assaults

Downtown subject for Public Safety Committee

An ordinance that bans sitting or lying on downtown Spokane sidewalks during a 14-hour period of the day could be expanded to include more hours after a surge of assaults in the area.

“If we can make the environment uncomfortable for people who are committing crimes or are contemplating committing crimes, I think that’s a good thing,” Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart said Monday at the city’s Public Safety Committee meeting.

The city’s current “sit and lie” ordinance, approved in 2008, prohibits people from sitting or lying on a downtown sidewalk between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Stuckart said the fact that many of the assaults investigated by police since June occurred after 9 p.m. shows the ordinance could be extended until the early morning.

“I think we’ve got a pretty strong constitutional case to extend the time,” Stuckart said.

Police say an increased presence in downtown Spokane has helped control the violence that provoked complaints from businesses.

Police investigated 15 felony assaults and three misdemeanor assaults between June 8 and July 8. Several arrests have been made. Weapons ranged from baseball bats to skateboards, and one victim also reported seeing a knife.

The victims range in age and include a well-known developmentally delayed man who’s known only by his first name, Vinnie. Local club promoters hosted a party for Vinnie at the Knitting Factory last summer.

Vinnie was attacked June 17. A possible suspect was identified, but the victim was not able to identify him and no one has been arrested, according to the Spokane Police Department.

“Primarily, the suspects in these cases were, for lack of a better word, a pack of 15- to 20-year-old street kids,” said Maj. Frank Scalise.

Scalise said the assaults were similar: One person who was usually intoxicated would distract a victim “while the remainder of the group would strike the person or try to grab their property.”

Police adjusted their schedules to allow more officers to patrol downtown later, and officers have been instructed to get out of their cars “and walk a foot beat for at least an hour,” Scalise said.

An officer who teaches law enforcement classes at Spokane Public Schools’ Skills Center but is free during the summer is now working downtown. Detectives also patrolled downtown, as well as members of the Patrol Anti Crime Team, some undercover.

Scalise called the police presence “highly visible.”

“The situation, as we saw it, had flared up,” Scalise said. “It obviously needed some immediate attention and some focused attention.”

Scalise said police focused on the area between Spokane Falls Boulevard and Third Avenue, from Lincoln Street to Bernard Street. The epicenter appears be near Howard and Third, said Stuckart. He said a convenience store that opened there has “drawn the moths to the flame a little bit.”

City Councilman Jon Snyder noted that many businesses have closed in the area.

“We’ve got a dead zone in downtown in the middle of the city,” Snyder said. “When you have those kind of dead zones that are that big, it’s kind of credible that that kind of activity becomes magnetized.”