Over the course of the next four years, there’s sure to be plenty for Mayor-elect Nadine Woodward and incoming Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs to disagree about.
But the two politicians, who sat down for a meeting Friday, see an early opportunity for collaboration in the form of a new downtown police precinct.
Although their respective campaign platforms rarely overlapped, Beggs and Woodward have both called for an increased police presence in downtown Spokane.
Woodward made the call for a new downtown police precinct a centerpiece of her campaign early on, and she hopes to make it an early accomplishment in her term as mayor.
Beggs, who represents south Spokane on the Spokane City Council and will be sworn in after winning the citywide race for president this month, co-sponsored a resolution earlier this year to request that the city study the feasibility of a new downtown precinct. (That resolution was ultimately deferred by the City Council.)
Mayor David Condon relocated the downtown precinct from a space at the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza to the city-owned Intermodal Center in January 2016. Although it’s a change of only a handful of city blocks, advocates for a downtown precinct say it’s a substantial difference.
Both Beggs and Woodward had hoped that the second floor of the STA Plaza could accommodate a new precinct, but the Spokane Public Library announced this week that it would utilize the space as a temporary branch while its downtown library is closed for two years due to renovations.
But with a 17% commercial vacancy rate downtown, Woodward said there are other options left on the table. Woodward said she would work in the coming weeks to identify potential locations and tour them.
Cost is an important factor, Woodward noted. The city does not pay rent for the Intermodal Center because it owns the building, but likely would have to pay to relocate downtown.
“I think we can find something,” Woodward said.
Woodward expects the entire downtown precinct would likely move, but Beggs predicted the city would open an “auxiliary” precinct and maintain a presence at the Intermodal Center until the library renovations are complete, opening up the STA Plaza space again.
“That gives us a chance to plan for the police department being there,” Beggs said.
Moving the precinct closer to the downtown core should be coupled with a new policing model, Woodward and council members agree. They want to see more officers on foot and bicycle patrols.
“Quite frankly, just their presence is an effective deterrent to any kind of nefarious activity downtown,” Woodward said.
But implementing such a model is easier said than done.
“We (have to) figure out what that looks like and allow officers to be able to still make calls on perimeter and outside that core,” Woodward said.
As the issue came up before the Spokane City Council earlier this year, Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl embraced the community policing model but expressed concern about the precinct’s limited resources. Meidl told The Spokesman-Review in July that at the department’s current staffing levels officers assigned to the downtown precinct are rarely actually there. Instead, they are out responding to various calls for service.
Beggs’ co-sponsor on the resolution was fellow south Spokane City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear.
There are currently 10 officers assigned downtown. With five new officers expected to join the downtown precinct next year, Kinnear has argued the department’s space at the Intermodal Center is insufficient.
“They’re crowded there right now. Add more police officers, and they’re going to be bursting at the seams. That is not a good location,” Kinnear said.
Local leaders have not unanimously thrown themselves behind the push for a downtown precinct.
When the downtown policing resolution was introduced earlier this year, current Council President Ben Stuckart questioned the idea, arguing the city’s data actually demonstrates higher rates of crime near the Intermodal Center.
But Kinnear argued that crime stats are fluid and are not necessarily an effective measure to base a precinct location on.
When it comes to addressing public safety downtown, Woodward said people are concerned and “we have to recognize and acknowledge that is how people are feeling.
“The perception is reality for a lot of people, and we have to make them feel comfortable about coming downtown again,” Woodward said.
That sentiment was echoed by members of the City Council, which has had an increasingly fraught relationship with Condon.
“I would expect that it’s an opportunity for a reset and we can work more collaboratively between the mayor’s office and council,” Kinnear said of Woodward’s impending arrival in office.
Woodward said she arrives without political baggage and was encouraged by her meeting with Beggs on Friday.
While the makeup of council is largely the same, Woodward sees an opportunity to rehabilitate the relationship between the council and the city’s executive branch of government.
“I don’t come to the table with any political baggage, so I look forward to a fresh start and opening up those lines of communication between the mayor’s office and City Council,” Woodward said.
Beggs suggested some of the perceived disagreement between Woodward and himself may amount to “campaign rhetoric,” and that he believes they can still work together on issues like housing and homelessness.
During their meeting Friday, Beggs said “mostly we were just sharing ideas on how to stay in touch and communicate well and avoid some of the tensions with the last administration and the council, and I don’t say that to imply it was the administration’s fault.”
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