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Thursday, April 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New Councilman Cathcart wants community policing in his district

New Spokane City Councilman Michael Cathcart speaks during a council meeting on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
New Spokane City Councilman Michael Cathcart speaks during a council meeting on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward is moving quickly to identify and open a new downtown police precinct focused on community-oriented law enforcement, with more officers patrolling on foot and bike.

New City Councilman Michael Cathcart likes that plan so much he wants to mirror it in northeast Spokane, the district he represents.

Cathcart said it won’t be immediate – Woodward has been in office for less than a month and has yet to announce a location for the new downtown precinct – but he wants to explore the possibility of expanding the program, on a trial basis, into the northeast City Council district.

“I’m open to which neighborhood maybe we want to start with, but I think Hillyard would be a really good one,” Cathcart said.

The relocation of a police precinct to the downtown core has been an early point of agreement between the new mayor and the City Council, which had floated the idea last year.

The goal is not only to make the Spokane Police Department more visible, but to implement a community policing model that puts more officers on city streets either on foot or bicycle patrols.

The concept’s proponents believe a more visible police force would be a deterrent to downtown crime and make residents feel safer. The precinct is currently in the city-owned Intermodal Center, which lacks adequate space to handle the additional officers that will be assigned there this year.

Cathcart said he first raised the proposal to implement community policing in the department’s north precinct, which is in Hillyard, with Woodward in November. He has since discussed it with new City Administrator Wes Crago.

“I think there’s some interest in seeing how this would work, not just in an urban environment, but also a neighborhood environment,” Cathcart said. “And I think that’s the only way we can test it, see how it works, modify it as needed, and then perhaps expand it beyond that.”

Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl worries about his department’s limited resources being spread thin. The community expects to not have to wait two hours before police respond to a call, he said.

“You have to constantly look for that balance, so while I love all of these different ideas out there – and they’re all ideas that we’ve discussed – you also have to look at the efficiency and effectiveness of it,” Meidl said.

City Council President Breean Beggs supports Cathcart’s idea but acknowledged it may have to be implemented in a way that assuages Meidl’s concerns.

“Ideally, we’ll do community policing in lots of populated concentration areas and hotspots,” Beggs said.

Because it is only a pilot proposal, Cathcart believes the city likely could find the funding for it within the department’s current operating budget by simply reallocating resources.

For Cathcart, the plan is a response to one of the biggest complaints he heard on the campaign trail: that police aren’t available when they’re called.

“If we have officers who are just dedicated to each neighborhood or smaller regional areas, then it’s a lot easier for them to go to somebody’s home or business where they’re called, but also they can respond when there’s activity in the moment,” Cathcart said.

Cathcart said it’s critical that the city build trust between its police department and residents.

“There’s no better way than having officers who are walking and biking through neighborhoods saying hello to people out raking their yard, saying hi to business owners in the area, and just getting to know people one-on-one,” Cathcart said.

Bicycle and foot patrols make sense downtown where the population swells during the day, Meidl said. But in other parts of the city, he argued the department would have to assess the feasibility of such a policy.

Beggs said the council should avoid trying to micromanage exactly how many officers are on foot or on bicycles, but establish that such activity is a priority.

“What you have to make a judgment about is, if you deploy someone on bike or foot, is that going to change the overall dynamics of how much crime is in that neighborhood?” Beggs said.

Other neighborhoods and business centers north of the river, such as the NorthTown Mall and the Garland District, also would love to see increased police presence, Meidl said.

“Truly, we wish we could accommodate them all,” Meidl said.

Not-so-newcomer

Cathcart is no stranger to city policymaking, something he tracked closely at pro-business organization Better Spokane and, previously, in his position lobbying for the Spokane Homebuilders Association.

Cathcart said he’s been heartened by the council’s recent pledges to collaborate with Woodward.

Replacing Mike Fagan, who was the council’s only consistent conservative voice, Cathcart may find himself in a similar position.

“I see my role as trying to advocate for more reasonable policies, more reasonable positions, and if I see policies coming down the pike that I think will have a negative impact on especially my district, but also the city, I see my job as doing everything I can to make that less bad,” Cathcart said.

Still, Cathcart sees opportunity for collaboration.

“We’re all in this together,” he said. “And we all generally want to see the same outcomes, (although) we probably have different paths to getting there.”

Beggs noted he and Cathcart already have shared priorities, such as improving police oversight.

“I don’t think necessarily we’re always going to be contrary on the traditional narratives,” Beggs said.

“My whole philosophy of being council president is … that we communicate respectfully and don’t make things worse just by the way we communicate,” Beggs said. “He strikes me as someone who shares that value.”

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