Fulfilling a campaign promise, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward announced plans on Monday to open a new police precinct in the heart of downtown.
The new precinct will open inside the former Umpqua Bank Building at Riverside Avenue and Wall Street. The precinct is expected to accommodate as many as 35 police officers and will be a cornerstone of Woodward’s efforts to improve public safety in the city center when it opens in July.
The city plans to sign a 10-year lease on the former bank space with owner Confluent Development and invest $295,000 upfront to convert it into a police precinct.
Woodward pledged to relocate the downtown police precinct from the Intermodal Center to the city’s core as a centerpiece of her victorious campaign for mayor in 2019, which tapped into voters’ anxieties about visible homelessness and crime downtown.
Although she described Spokane’s downtown as “awesome” and brimming with “excitement and energy,” Woodward lamented its negative perception among the residents she’s met with on the campaign trail and as mayor.
“It is a serious concern that I’ve heard over and over,” Woodward said at a news conference in the future precinct space. “I spent most of last year out in the community, talking and listening to our residents, and I still hear their concerns today.”
If the funding and lease are approved, the new precinct could be the first major compromise between the liberal-leaning City Council and politically right-of-center new mayor.
Woodward’s call for an enhanced police presence downtown has been echoed thus far by members of the council, including City Council President Breean Beggs and Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, whose district encompasses downtown. Both were on hand for Monday’s announcement.
Beggs, an attorney, has co-owned a law firm that has been located downtown for the past decade. While he claimed downtown is safe, he acknowledged the common perception among residents that it is not.
“We have struggled with that,” Beggs said. “And we’ve also struggled to be innovative. And this new downtown precinct is going to allow us to be innovative.”
Woodward and the council members have advocated that police dedicate more time and resources to foot and bicycle patrols downtown, although the exact number of officers dedicated to such community policing efforts has yet to be determined.
Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl said the downtown precinct will be like a “bees’ nest” with officers frequently entering and departing.
Former Mayor David Condon moved the downtown police precinct from a storefront near the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza to the east side of downtown in the city-owned Intermodal Center in January 2016. The city invested about $115,000 in renovating the Intermodal space before it opened in January 2016.
There are 10 officers, two sergeants, a detective, a lieutenant and a captain currently assigned to the downtown precinct. More are expected to join the ranks this year as the city increases the overall size of its police department by about 20 officers with funding from the $5.8-million-per-year public safety levy approved by voters in 2019.
The city plans to add five new police officers, a detective and a sergeant downtown this year.
City officials acknowledged as they began the search for a new downtown precinct that finding adequate parking for police cruisers and personal vehicles would be a challenge. While the details have yet to be ironed out, Woodward said that the city is in negotiations with the Spokane Transit Authority. The city plans to use parking on Riverside Avenue, and could also use space on Wall Street and Post Street.
It also will add five members to the Behavioral Health Unit in addition to the two already assigned downtown. The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office is expected to house two deputies at the precinct, which it does not currently do.
The lease – which requires approval by the City Council – begins with a monthly payment of $12,979 in the first year, with a 3% increase every year after. The city has the option to exit the deal after seven years.
Council members have argued that a new precinct is financially prudent. The Intermodal Center precinct likely would have required capital improvements to accommodate the additional officers added this year.
Crime is already on the decline downtown.
The downtown precinct ended 2019 with about 13% fewer crimes reported than the year prior, according to the department’s CompStat report system. Property crimes, which are reported far more often than violent crimes, had decreased about 12% in 2019.
Still, Woodward sees the downtown police precinct as a vital tool in continuing that downward trend.
Officials touted the new precinct location, which is near the STA Plaza and more centrally located to the more than 200 retailers and restaurants downtown.
Mark Richard, president and CEO of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, noted the precinct’s proximity to three major hotels, River Park Square and “the highest concentration of employment in the entire downtown area.”
“It is important that this precinct reside here,” Richard said.
Police and city officials have not yet determined what hours the precinct will be accessible to the public, but they have pledged to have officers assigned to it seven days a week.
Meidl said as the department transitions to its precinct locale in the downtown core, it still will provide coverage to the east end of downtown. The city has not announced a plan for the Intermodal Center space following the police department’s exit later this year.
“One of the things I think some people may not understand about the precincts, other than that front desk officer, the officers don’t stay there. They’re out in the field,” Meidl said. “You should not see any change in the level of us being out in the field other than as our staffing increases, you will see more officers now.”
Ultimately, the new precinct’s success will be measured in three key ways – the number of reported crimes, the number of calls for police service and the less tangible perception of public safety.
“That’s something that can take months and months or even years until you really establish yourself and they’ve been able to see the results of that location change,” Meidl said.
The city toured four possible locations for the new police precinct, all of which were on Riverside Avenue.
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