Members of the Spokane Police Department and City Council met Thursday to discuss whether relocating a police precinct to the heart of downtown would be the best way to accomplish their shared goal of boosting officer presence downtown.
The meeting came days before the council is slated to take up a nonbinding resolution that would request the city study the feasibility of returning a precinct to the center of downtown and present the findings to the City Council. The resolution would also encourage an emphasis on police bicycle and foot patrols downtown.
After Thursday’s session, resolution sponsor and Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said she will consult with her co-sponsor, CouncilmanBreean Beggs, and that they may make changes ahead of Monday’s council meeting.
“I don’t think what we proposed is that different or radical from what we were told today, we just need a few things so it doesn’t come across as prescriptive,” Kinnear said.
During the Thursday afternoon study session, council members asked about the potential cost of relocating the police precinct downtown, whether the current precinct will have sufficient space once five additional officers are added, and the possibility of adding a satellite precinct near Spokane Transit Authority Plaza.
Kinnear and Beggs brought the topic of downtown policing back to the forefront of the council’s agenda, but they say the issue has been simmering since 2015, when the city relocated the downtown police precinct from a storefront next to the STA Plaza east to the city-owned Intermodal Center.
“It’s about doing our due diligence to find out what works best for SPD and the community,” Kinnear said.
The impetus for moving the precinct office was largely based on the Intermodal Center being owned and controlled by the city, Assistant Chief Justin Lundgren said.
“It is adjacent to a relatively high-call-for-service area, where it’s at now, even though it’s not in the middle of downtown,” Lundgren said.
Though the Intermodal Center is not in the heart of downtown, officers are regularly dispersed throughout the downtown core.
There are 10 officers assigned to the downtown police precinct. Five more officers are on the way, thanks to a voter-approved public safety levy, but they must first attend the police academy and are not expected to join the precinct until 2020.
When those new officers join the precinct next fall, the city will have to address the capacity of the current precinct, Lundgren acknowledged.
“Something is going to have to change,” Kinnear said. “You can’t cram them into that space. You’re going to have to heavily remodel it or find another space.”
With a new precinct, the city would have to ensure adequate parking for police vehicles and visitors. Even if the city located a new space rent-free, Lundgren noted there would be substantial costs associated with moving its information technology systems.
The city would also have to consider how long it is guaranteed to have the rights to the new space.
“Location is a factor, but it’s one of several that we’ll have to look at,” Lundgren said.
Council members asked Thursday about the feasibility of a satellite precinct in the center of downtown. But Lundgren expressed concern about the costs associated with maintaining two facilities and outfitting two spaces for police use, as well as its impact on officer coordination, team meetings and staff cohesiveness.
“I don’t know if we’re in favor of splitting our staff into two different areas,” Lundgren said.
Council president Ben Stuckart remained skeptical of the resolution.
“It’s not going to be a decision that council makes, so I don’t know that this resolution does any good,” Stuckart said.
The latest iteration of the resolution is less ambitious than the original, which was introduced by Kinnear and Beggs earlier this month and directly called for the city to relocate the precinct to the downtown core.
According to the city’s Compstat crime reporting system, violent and property crime have decreased more than 16% in 2019 compared to this point in 2018 citywide. The decrease in reported crime is sharper when looking at the downtown precinct, which has seen reported violent crimes drop by 27% and property crimes by 17.4% from last year.
But that improvement is partly due to crime numbers having been so high in 2018. Though downtown property crime dropped slightly in 2018, reported violent crime increased by more than 40%.
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