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Friday, October 23, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New downtown Spokane police precinct opens as city commits to community policing

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 23, 2020

The pitch to the public: a new downtown police precinct will bring more officers into the heart of downtown, interacting on bicycle and foot patrols with city residents and visitors.

The pitch to the officers who work there: the old precinct has a single toilet shared between 15 employees.

The city celebrated the opening of the new Spokane Police Department precinct at the corner of Wall Street and Riverside Avenue on Tuesday.

“The downtown is going to be seen as a very comfortable and safe place,” Mayor Nadine Woodward said. “This is what our businesses want, this is what our community wants – to see that community policing model in action downtown.”

The recently renovated facility, open for a few weeks now, replaces the cramped interior offices of the former downtown precinct, which was tucked inside the Intermodal Center on First Avenue on the eastern edge of the city’s downtown core.

Long advocated for by nearby businesses and the Downtown Spokane Partnership, the relocated precinct opens with the promise of a community-centered policing model.

“There’s more activity at this current location that we can impact. We’ve got River Park Square, we’ve got the (Spokane Transit Authority) Plaza, which is very busy,” said Sgt. Jason Hartman. “We’re more visible, people are seeing our cars parked outside in the area where they weren’t previously.”

In addition to responding to emergency calls, the downtown police officers have routine assignments. Four days a week they partner with the city’s litter cleanup crew. They also respond to complaints filed and issues raised by downtown businesses.

The precinct hosts 10 police officers and one detective, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. It’s also a central base for the department’s behavioral health unit, which pairs mental health professionals with police officers.

As the department brings on additional officers with funds raised by a voter- approved public safety levy, the downtown precinct will see the addition of five officers, one detective and another sergeant.

At the start, the department plans to staff the precinct with an officer at the front desk, who would be accessible to the public, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl said. When its staffing level increases, the precinct will try to be flexible “when they’re needed.”

For officers, the precinct offers amenities not available at their former digs, like separate locker rooms and more room to stretch their legs.

“It’s a very functional space,” said Capt. David Singley, whose former office was a hallway.

Woodward made the pledge to relocate the police precinct and improve public safety downtown a centerpiece of her successful campaign for a first term in 2019.

The mayor credited her early collaboration with the Downtown Spokane Partnership, which began during her transition into office, for opening the precinct, avoiding potential disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The precinct was also the first major point of collaboration between Woodward and Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs, who co-owns a law firm downtown. Beggs said officers will interact with “all people who are downtown.”

“It belongs to all of us,” Beggs said.

The precinct’s success will be gauged by measures tangible and intangible.

Crime is already declining downtown, Meidl noted, and was pre-pandemic. As of Monday, property and violent crime tracked by the city dropped 16% in 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.

But the city will also look to assess the public’s perception of their safety downtown.

“We are the economic hub of our region. We have a vibrant downtown and people need to feel safe,” Woodward said.

If the city decides to abandon the downtown precinct, it can opt out of its 10-year lease on the space after seven years. The monthly lease payment will begin at $12,979 in year one, with a 3% increase each year thereafter.

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