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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘A big problem for the city’: Dearth of traffic cops troubles Spokane city leaders

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 7, 2021

The Spokane City Council last week approved the nomination of Jennifer Cerecedes, a veteran of SNAP, to oversee the city's response to housing and homelessness issues.   (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The Spokane City Council last week approved the nomination of Jennifer Cerecedes, a veteran of SNAP, to oversee the city's response to housing and homelessness issues.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

From her bedroom window, Mary Winkes watches as cars speed past the radar sign on Grand Boulevard.

Winkes, who serves as chair of the Comstock/Cannon-Hill Neighborhood Council, is one of several neighborhood leaders across the city who have voiced concern about a lack of traffic enforcement in recent weeks.

“People are going by at 30 and 35, sometimes 40. Sometimes, people are going the right speed too – but not a lot,” Winkes said.

Traffic enforcement has long been a neighborhood concern, but it’s now at the top after the Spokane Police Department announced last month that it has reassigned most of its traffic unit to shifts on patrol.

The city is dozens of officers short on patrol, which is a high priority for the police department because those officers respond to emergencies. Though patrol officers can enforce traffic violations, it is not their primary focus. A handful of people remain in the traffic unit , but they each have a specialty, such as commercial vehicle enforcement.

“The least painful alternative to bolster our patrol numbers was to move those five traffic officers temporarily,” Assistant Chief Justin Lundgren said.

The change has Spokane City Council members – who are hearing complaints from neighborhood council leaders like Winkes about speeding cars – looking for creative ways to improve recruitment efforts for the police department.

There is no projected return date for the reassigned officers.

“I’d like to tell you that this will be something that we’ll be able to reverse in the near term. I don’t know that that will be the case,” Lundgren said.

The council discussed the issue during a meeting of its Public Safety and Community Health Committee on Monday.

To fortify the city’s ranks, council members discussed offering incentives to new recruits who join the Spokane Police Department or transfers from other departments .

Councilman Michael Cathcart suggested the city match or exceed the incentive for new hires offered by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. Earlier this year, the sheriff advertised on billboards in major cities sign-on bonuses of up to $15,000.

Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, who chairs the committee, told The Spokesman-Review that she and Council President Breean Beggs offered the police department funding to hire additional traffic enforcement positions. Those talks fizzled in 2020, but Kinnear said she is open to rekindling them.

While understanding of the police department’s logic for shifting staff, neighborhood leaders have been dismayed by the lack of traffic enforcement.

“It’s basically a green light for people who want to speed – there’s nobody going to ticket them. They know,” Winkes said. “I also understand that the police don’t have enough people to cover a lot of issues, so I’m not sure what decision I would have made, either.”

Neighborhoods have advocated for other traffic calming measures, like a 20 mph speed limit around city parks.

While that’s a welcome development, Winkes noted that signs alone aren’t going to work.

“It’s a big problem for the city,” Winkes said.

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