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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

How Spokane’s new Violent Crime Task Force plans to keep repeat offenders incarcerated

Woodward  (DAN PELLE/The Spokesman-Review)

Mayor Nadine Woodward and Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl fleshed out how the new Violent Crime Task Force will function at the mayor’s State of the City address Wednesday.

Woodward announced plans to formulate a task force following a rash of shootings across just a few days earlier this month, with the goal of cracking down on repeat offenders.

The police department will assign two sergeants and five other officers to start, Meidl said.

“Their job every day is to wake up and look at who are these repeat offenders that continue to go out and victimize the community,” he said. “Their job is to go out and stop that and get ahead of it before they can victimize the community again.”

The effort is similar to Seattle’s “High Utilizer” initiative, a Seattle City Attorney’s Office program aimed at aggregating numerous misdemeanors into felony charges for more than 100 people collectively suspected of thousands of misdemeanors in the past five years, according to the Seattle Times.

Meidl said the police department was deliberate to not eliminate any other SPD units to bring together the task force. He said SPD hopes to refill those units as more officers are hired in the coming months.

“The task force is built on philosophies and successes of other specialty teams that the SPD has put together before,” Woodward said. “And we’re looking at approaches other cities have taken to quality of life crimes by packaging misdemeanor crimes into felony charges for those responsible for dozens and dozens of offenses.”

The formation of the task force comes amid complaints from the police department that individuals arrested on certain crimes are quickly released.

Meidl said the task force will follow these defendants from the point of arrest to their appearances in court.

“A lot of these judges aren’t getting the rest of the story of what’s happening with these individuals and the type of one-person crime wave they are,” he said, “so our goal is not only to arrest them to protect them, to keep the community safe, but also to really demonstrate to the judge this person is doing a lot of damage. They are a big threat to the community.”

With 40 shootings in the first three months of the year, Spokane was on pace to top the 151 shootings recorded last year.

Meidl said the string of shootings seen in the city stems not only from gang violence and drugs, but also domestic violence, property crime and other incidents.

“The intent is to, one, get them off the street. Get those guns off the street,” he said, “but also send a message to the rest of the community that Spokane is not going to tolerate this.

“If you’re going to go out and commit a crime, especially a crime with a gun, we’re not going to tolerate it. We’re going to come after you.”