Businesses in downtown Spokane are deciding whether to pursue more lights and video cameras to trim the stubborn problem of minor crimes.
In an effort to curtail petty property crimes such as larceny, vandalism and loitering, the city’s Business Improvement District is asking downtown business owners whether they’re interested in installing more lighting and cameras in the city’s core. The district is promising to match 50 percent of the cost through a $25,000 grant program, with an estimated $3,000 cap per property, based on needs and interest.
“If you look at our crime stats, we’re not dealing with violent crimes downtown,” said Mark Richard, CEO of the Downtown Spokane Partnership. “We’re dealing with minor crimes.”
Richard said the initiative was approved by the BID Ratepayer Advisory Board earlier this year, in partnership with the Spokane Police Department’s downtown precinct. The intent, he said, is to shine more light on dark alleyways and focus cameras on areas that tend to see more property crimes, such as those near the House of Charity and the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza. The video would only be viewable by the owner and police, he added.
“We’re really just trying to get some reaction from our businesses,” said Richard. “We want to get your feedback on whether you agree, and whether you think that these types of systems could work.”
Julie Katzer, owner of the Brews Brothers coffee shop on the west side of the STA Plaza on Sprague Avenue, said she supports the initiative, though as of last Wednesday, she hadn’t responded to the survey.
She said despite cameras indoors, her shop has long been a hot spot for theft, mostly customers’ bags getting stolen. She said having cameras outside could help police track the direction someone headed once on the street.
“I’m absolutely for it,” she said. “I think it would be supersmart.”
John Waite, owner of Auntie’s Bookstore and Merlyn’s Comics and Games on Main Avenue, echoed her sentiment. He said 20 years ago, he wouldn’t have been for it, but recently, property crime has become too much of an issue.
“Sadly, I feel like that’s the way the world is going,” he said. “It’s just a crazier world now.”
Waite said that on several occasions, customers have had bikes or parts of their bikes stolen from the rack just outside on the sidewalk. There have also been instances of vandalism or “bad behavior” at night.
“It would be nice to know who it was,” he said. “Of course, I would be very careful at looking at civil liberties, and making sure that doesn’t get abused.”
Before the partnership can use BID funds, which are technically city revenue, it has to go to the City Council for a vote. Since the council passed the “drone” ordinance in 2013, any city funds used for city surveillance must be approved before they’re acquired.
Council President Ben Stuckart, who pushed the bill early in his first City Council term, said Monday it was too early in the process to give his full opinion on the matter. He said he sees the argument for why more cameras might be necessary, but he also has concerns that it’s an encroachment on civil liberties.
“I haven’t been entirely convinced,” he said. “But I did pass the law. I do know that citizens are concerned about networks of cameras watching everything we possibly do. That’s why we put these protections in place.”
Richard said he hoped to have the survey, which was emailed two weeks ago, wrapped up soon. He encouraged all downtown businesses to participate.
“We want to know: Is this a bona fide, justifiable, wise use of your money?” he said. “This really isn’t a question to the public of how you feel about this. That will come up at the council discussion.”
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