The controversial decision to move the Spokane Police Department’s downtown precinct became official Thursday, as city leaders stood before the blue-tiled service counter with assurances that the new location would not adversely impact crime-fighting downtown.
“A physical move by six blocks should not impact policing and efforts to improve quality of life concerns in the downtown area,” interim Chief Rick Dobrow said. “As a matter of fact, I would argue that physical location or precinct or the main police facility has fewer police assets in it than you would find deployed in the field on a daily basis.”
The new precinct is in the Intermodal Center, which houses the Amtrak and Greyhound stations. Until the end of December, the precinct was in a storefront near Spokane Transit Authority’s downtown bus plaza. As a result of the move, STA decided to stop paying the department $86,900 per year to fund a downtown police officer position.
Remodeling the Intermodal Center cost the city roughly $115,000, according to an invoice submitted by D.R. Scott Construction last fall.
City Council members have questioned the move and demanded to see proof that the move will save money as other city officials have contended. Council President Ben Stuckart said he and other members approved funding for the remodel because they were told by former Chief Frank Straub that the center would be a second precinct. Earlier this month, Stuckart and Councilman Mike Fagan jointly submitted a list of seven questions, one asking for a “detailed cost-benefit analysis in hard numbers showing real savings” from the precinct move.
Scott Simmons, director of the city’s Business and Developer Services division, said the move was not primarily motivated by saving money, but instead by a desire to be “utilizing our city-owned facilities better.”
Stuckart said Thursday afternoon he had not reviewed the city’s responses to his questions, and would not comment.
The city has owned the Intermodal Center since 1992. By moving the precinct, Simmons said, the city would save about $61,000 a year because it would no longer need as much security, given the presence of police officers. The city had been spending about $123,000 a year for security at the building.
Ed Lukas, city asset management director, said the city still is determining how much the Police Department will pay the city for the space. But he said the operating costs come to about $20 a square foot per year. That comes to about $2,800 a month for the precinct’s 1,700 square feet.
The customer service desk will be open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, but the office will “serve as a base of operation for the police 24/7,” according to documents provided by the city.
Ten patrol officers are assigned to the new precinct, though they will largely be “out in the field,” according to Lukas. Capt. Brad Arleth is the precinct’s commander, but he has been on paid administrative leave after a city official, whose name has not been released, filed a complaint alleging Arleth was insubordinate when he moved furniture to the new location. At least some of the furniture Arleth ordered to move remains in the new precinct.
Arleth’s nameplate still indicates the commander’s office is his in the new preccinct. Lt. Bart Stevens is running the precinct in Arleth’s absence.
Simmons said the move came as part of a larger city effort to “co-locate complementary services together” on city-owned property. Considering the 110 buildings the city owns, the Spokane International Airport it co-owns with the county and the right-of-way property, Simmons said the city owns more than half of Spokane.
“We actually own about 54 percent of the city today,” Simmons said.
He said the city’s parking services will be moved from the Chief Garry neighborhood to a building adjacent to the Intermodal Center “in the months ahead.”
“This is just another example of us being smart in how we bring our services closer to our citizens,” he said.
Staff writer Rachel Alexander contributed to this report.
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