Spokane City Council members are calling for proof from city administrators and police leaders that the 2-week-old move of the downtown police precinct will save money.
Council President Ben Stuckart and Councilman Mike Fagan jointly submitted a list of seven questions about the move to interim police Chief Rick Dobrow, city asset management director Ed Lukas, and business and developer services director Scott Simmons at a well-attended Public Safety Committee meeting Monday.
The list asks for a “detailed cost-benefit analysis in hard numbers showing real savings” from the precinct move. Fagan said the questions came from constituents.
“They do appear to be very reasonable questions based on media reports,” Fagan said.
The list also asks for copies of city emails concerning the relocation and a cost breakdown of the Intermodal Center remodel, including all furniture purchases. Stuckart and Fagan said they want answers in two weeks.
The Police Department moved the precinct during the last week of December from the Peyton Building, next to the STA Plaza, to the Intermodal Center, a train and bus station about six blocks east. As a result of the move, STA decided to stop paying the department $86,900 per year to fund a downtown police officer position.
At the meeting Monday, Councilwomen Candace Mumm and Amber Waldref, both of whom sit on the STA Board, said STA’s 2016 budget included funding for an officer position. Mumm said she’s likely to revisit the funding issue.
Remodeling the Intermodal Center cost the city roughly $115,000, according to an invoice submitted by D.R. Scott Construction last fall. Stuckart said he and other council members approved funding for the remodel because they were told by former Chief Frank Straub that the center would be a second precinct. Straub presented the idea last February at a Public Safety Committee meeting.
“We didn’t find out that we were closing the downtown one until well after we’d approved funding to renovate the intermodal,” Stuckart said.
The move also took the precinct out of a rent-free space subleased from the Downtown Spokane Partnership to a city-owned location where the Police Department will have to pay a monthly cost for utilities and maintenance.
Lukas, Dobrow and Mayor David Condon have defended the move, saying it will cut down on the roughly $99,000 the city spent in the first 11 months of 2015 on private security at the Intermodal Center, as well as costs to repair vandalism to escalators there.
Dobrow said Monday that the additional space at the center opens up the possibility of co-locating COPS volunteers with the precinct, allowing them to staff the front desk. Dobrow announced plans to move COPS volunteers into the Northeast precinct last fall.
The precinct move came under scrutiny last week after Dobrow placed downtown precinct Capt. Brad Arleth on leave. Dobrow said it was for a “serious violation of policy” and declined to elaborate.
A source inside City Hall with knowledge of the investigation said last week that the violation was related to Arleth’s decision to move furniture from the Peyton Building to the Intermodal Center after the new precinct already had been set up. Stuckart said if media reports about the cause of Arleth’s suspension are true, he was troubled by the decision to place a captain on leave.
“An argument over furniture is different than allegations of sexual harassment in my mind,” he said.
Dobrow said at the meeting that, contrary to media reports, “furniture is not all (of) what’s involved in this.”
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