Depending on whose advertisement they see, voters might come away with a very different perception of crime in Spokane.
Both candidates for Spokane City Council president have touched on public safety in recent campaign ads, but in much different ways.
In a spot posted on his campaign Facebook page, current councilman and aspiring president Breean Beggs celebrates the drop in crime citywide. An ad for his opponent, businesswoman Cindy Wendle, paints a less rosy picture, stating “drug related crimes up 33%.”
Neither claim is an outright lie, but both are only a small piece of the complex picture of crime in Spokane, which along with the issue of homelessness has become a centerpiece of campaigns for Spokane City Council and mayor.
The race for council president is no exception, as the candidates have frequently been asked to explain their stances on everything from a new county jail to downtown policing.
Beggs has posted a series of 15-second ads to his campaign Facebook page in which he makes several claims. Most send a positive message, in one way or another, about the strides the city of Spokane has made in recent years. Though he is not technically an incumbent, Beggs has run like one, touting his record and the city’s progress during his three-plus years representing the Spokane City Council’s southern district.
In one clip, Beggs claims the city has reduced crime by more than 15%. That’s true: As of the latest Spokane Police CompStat report, crime has decreased citywide by about 16% compared to this point in 2018. Violent crime, specifically, has dropped by slightly less than 16% since last year.
But the drop in violent crime comes only after a similar spike in 2018, when it increased more than 13% compared to 2017.
Crime is down almost entirely across the board citywide. Among the 12 categories of violent and property crime tracked in the city’s reporting, only one – burglary of a garage – has increased compared to this point in 2018. There have been 468 reported garage burglaries this year, compared to 466 last year.
But Wendle notes that while crime may be down citywide, specific neighborhoods have seen increases in certain categories of crime.
“Anybody can pull out one stat here and there and make it look great,” Wendle said. “Crime is up here and people feel it.”
Wendle has particularly focused her campaign on calling for public safety to improve downtown, where she notes there has been an increase this year in both commercial robbery (from seven incidents to nine) and robbery of a person (from 36 to 38) compared to this point last year. Those are statistics the city needs to pay attention to, Wendle argued.
“This is the heart of our city,” Wendle said, adding that it affects every resident of Spokane.
Wendle’s latest ad states that drug-related crime is up 33% this year, but that number is simplified and references an Oct. 10 KXLY story about a surge in crime near the 7-11 store at Second Avenue and Division Street.
Those figures were generated by Spokane police Sgt. Jason Hartman, who tracked the drug-related arrest rates of each of the 10 officers assigned to the downtown precinct and compared them to the previous year. Based on that data, Spokane police projected its downtown officers would end 2019 with about 33% more drug-related arrests than in 2018.
The figures will not match the exact figures the city will report to the FBI crime database through the National Incident-Based Reporting System, according to Sgt. Terry Preuninger.
Still, the city as whole does appear on track to see more felony drug-related arrests in 2019 than it did in 2018.
Through Oct. 22, Spokane police have made 912 arrests for felony drug crimes and 41 misdemeanor drug crimes citywide this year. Over all of last year, police made 944 felony drug arrests and 24 misdemeanor arrests.
Downtown-specific data was not immediately available.
Beggs noted the city has better-funded police. Earlier this year, voters approved a public safety levy that will result in the addition of several officers to the downtown precinct.
Beggs also has proposed using the second floor of the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza building downtown as a new downtown police precinct, and cosponsored a proposed resolution calling on Spokane police to implement a community policing model downtown.
The city also has developed new strategies to combat crime, Beggs said. For example, he said probation officers are engaging with people instead of just monitoring compliance.
When people “are pursuing goals in their life in addition to just staying crime free,” Beggs argued, they are more likely to stay crime free.
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