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

Spokane police open precinct in East Central at request of mayor, spurring criticism from council and community

A moving crew moves furniture into the former East Side Library in Spokane on Thursday, June 30, 2022. The building will be used as a precinct starting Friday for the Spokane Police Department.  (Greg Mason/The Spokesman-Review)

The former East Side Library is becoming a new precinct for the Spokane Police Department – much to the surprise of some area residents and their elected representatives.

Mayor Nadine Woodward had proposed the idea in mid-May to use the 6,000-square-foot building for police and on-site behavioral resources as a neighborhood policing location. City officials then said the Spokane City Council would decide how the building was used.

On Thursday, however, a moving crew was seen bringing in desks and other equipment off a truck and into the former library.

The move was Woodward’s decision, city spokesman Brian Coddington said. Because the former library is a city-owned building, Coddington said it is within the mayor’s operational purview to dictate how that building is used without the City Council’s approval.

“Neighbors have overwhelmingly welcomed police officers working in their neighborhood,” Woodward said in a statement. “This gives officers the opportunity to expand the community policing model and get to know their neighbors on a more meaningful level.”

The new precinct will allow Spokane police to relocate officers out of the second floor of a nunnery at St. Ann Catholic Church that had been used on a temporary basis as a precinct for the past several years, Coddington said. The furniture moved Thursday was from the nunnery.

Police personnel will move in to and begin working out of the building Friday, staffing eight officers there to start, Coddington said.

“That furthers the community policing model that allows officers to get closer to the neighborhoods that they serve and really engage on a much better and deeper level with the neighborhood,” Coddington said.

The Stone Street building, which abuts the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, was vacated when Spokane Public Library opened its new Liberty Park branch last fall. The building is in City Council District 2, which is represented by council members Betsy Wilkerson and Lori Kinnear.

The mayor’s decision comes the same week the City Council introduced resolutions in committee to dictate the property’s future.

One proposed the location of a police precinct for the East Central neighborhood – albeit in a different building – by 2023. The resolution proposed putting the precinct along East Sprague Avenue or within two blocks of East Sprague somewhere between the Hamilton overpass and Havana Street. Council President Breean Beggs said the proposed location was based on high rates of violent crime seen along the Sprague corridor.

Another proposal introduced during Monday’s Finance and Administration Committee would start a process toward leasing out the former library building, calling for proposals and a community open house.

Wilkerson said she didn’t learn of the mayor’s decision until late Thursday morning when she was informed by City Administrator Johnnie Perkins. Beggs said he learned just before that.

“How can this community feel trust when they don’t communicate with us?” Wilkerson said.

Responding to the city’s email announcement of the new precinct, Councilmember Karen Stratton said Thursday, “Your lack of professional courtesy and transparency – especially with the two Council Members representing the East Central neighborhood – is appalling. No wonder people don’t trust local government.”

When the idea was announced in May, Wilkerson said she and other East Central neighbors felt shut out by the city administration for moving ahead with the building’s future without their input.

“There was a press conference only a month ago when the mayor, at that press conference, promised the community that the City Council would make the final decision. She’s broken that promise to the community,” Beggs said. “It’s very disrespectful to the City Council to do something in the middle of our community process, and it’s unfair to the rest of the East Central neighborhood.”

Wilkerson said she was just as surprised by Thursday’s developments as she was caught off-guard when the idea was proposed to the public in May.

Councilmember Michael Cathcart, who joined the mayor in May in championing the proposal for the police precinct, said he doesn’t believe Woodward broke any promises in moving forward without the council’s approval.

“I said I would advance any legislation necessary. Clearly, we don’t need legislation on this point, so I’m not advancing anything,” he said. “I believe the mayor’s intention was to follow whatever the proper process would be legally, and being the head of the executive branch and this being a city-owned property, I believe she had the ability to determine its usage.”

Like his fellow councilmembers, Cathcart said he was informed of Woodward’s decision Thursday.

“Our inaction has set that neighborhood back by two decades,” he said. “We owe that neighborhood of East Central more than we can even begin to repay, and this precinct is, in my mind, just the very start of what we owe those folks.

“I think it’s a good thing that we’re putting this important resource in that neighborhood to address the problems that are going on there,” he continued.

Wilkerson has said she is not necessarily against a police precinct.

Rather, she said she doesn’t believe the city administration has really asked the neighborhood about what residents might want there. One of the proposed ideas for the building was a Latinx cultural center.

“I really believe that after our press conference (in May), that really didn’t do anything. They just started planning on moving in,” Wilkerson said. “My frustration is – mayor, we just asked to be at the table. We just asked to have a conversation with you, and that never happened.

“Now are you representing all of Spokane or just some? Because we don’t feel represented and our voice is not heard.”

The administration has countered that community outreach has taken place for at least three years, including a ThoughtExchange survey and discussion hosted by the City Council last winter. Coddington said “precinct” was the top-rated response from the ThoughtExchange process.

“There’s been dialogue that’s been ongoing for the better part of three years and, more recently, in the last six or seven months; there’s been significant dialogue about this,” he said.

On Thursday, Wilkerson joined supporters of the Rebuild East Central community coalition in a protest on the sidewalk outside of the library-turned-precinct demanding transparency. Some of that group saw the moving crew bring in the furniture from the van.

Jac Archer, organizer for the Peace and Justice Action League in Spokane as well as Spokane Community Against Racism, said people just want a “transparent, inclusive and collaborative process” around the building’s future.

“We’re not going to physically stop police officers from entering a location that they have been directed by Mayor Woodward and police Chief Craig Meidl to move into,” Archer said, “but we can bear witness and show them we do not support what this represents, which is an undermining of community voice and an undermining of voters’ voices.”

Beggs said the City Council has drafted an ordinance to take away Woodward’s authority to locate police precincts without council approval.

“She could do it. The same thing with the Division Street fencing – she can do it,” Beggs said, “but it’s not really a good way to build trust and collaboration, and it’s not best for the community.”