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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Out hunting’: Stay-at-home orders free up Spokane police to patrol around closed businesses

Spokane police take a man into custody on trespassing and disorderly conduct charges in downtown Spokane in this June 2017 photo. Officers are ramping up their patrols near businesses shuttered by the response to the coronavirus. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The streets of Spokane were eerily quiet Saturday morning, Spokane Police Department Lt. Dan Waters said.

“For the most part, people are doing what they’re asked,” said Waters, referencing social distancing and stay-at-home orders handed down by public health officials.

The only pending call for service was a report of a garage sale at which someone was concerned about the novel coronavirus spreading, according to Waters, who was working as the city-wide shift commander. Twenty-five pending calls for that time would be reasonable, he said.

“I have officers available on both sides of the city, which just doesn’t happen this time of year,” Waters said, adding, “shoplifters and retail theft folks are still out working.”

Having fewer people in areas with businesses closed or operating under reduced hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic makes them vulnerable to burglary, theft and vandalism, Waters said. But Spokane police announced Friday they are emphasizing patrols around commercial properties, businesses, grocery stores and neighborhoods so officers will be ready to catch criminals out looking for opportunity.

“Whenever there is down time, officers are really good about doing something,” said Waters, noting officers will visit high-crime areas and problem houses in their patrol area. “They’re out hunting.”

Waters said one of his officers happened to be driving through the shopping center near Franklin Park in North Spokane recently when the officer saw a mass of Trader Joe’s employees following a young woman through the parking lot. The employees pointed out the patrol car, then the juvenile female dropped the things she was suspected of stealing and took off running.

Spokane police reported the arrest of three juveniles early Friday morning who were suspected of breaking into a north Spokane Rite Aid after a 911 caller reported hearing glass break. Officers were already in the area looking for car prowlers.

One of the juveniles confessed to another four burglaries during the week, including another Rite Aid, two Chevron convenience stores and Happy Trails to Brews tavern.

Aside from a busy Thursday, Spokane police said there hasn’t been a noticeable uptick in crime rates. The department wants to keep it that way.

“We’re just trying to be deterrents,” Waters said.

The SPD recommends that business owners check up on their businesses regularly while closed and asks neighbors to remain vigilant in light of most people remaining in their homes. The police discourage people from calling 911 for social distancing violations.

“Know that the police department is aware, and we’re ready to respond,” Waters said.