Spokane to Split Up Policing, Try Neighborhood Approach

By Paige Browning

Spokane’s new downtown police location has given officers a better grasp on crime in the city’s core. But, the station also test drives precinct-style policing, a model that will cover all of Spokane in 2014. 

Captain Judi Carl at the downtown station says “we kind of do a balancing act down here, between law enforcement, and social service.”
Carl and six officers work from one location in Spokane, the new downtown precinct. It’s the first station of its kind in Spokane. Chief of police, Frank Straub, says he will roll out a basic precinct model for the entire city as soon as January.
Straub: “We will divide the city into three or four areas. Each of those areas will be led by a captain. They will probably work out of COP Shops, the existing locations.”
He says officers will be assigned to north or south Spokane in the beginning. Once the department reached 300 officers, up from about 275, he will consider giving them permanent neighborhood assignments.
Straub says area policing will give captains a new advantage: they’ll be embedded in one geographic area.
Straub: “They own it, they’re responsible for it. They get to mobilize block watch and those type of things. They get to mobilize the businesses up on Garland and up on Market Street. That’s the advantage to it.”
Carl says her officers know people downtown now, from business owners to transient youth. And that helps them catch suspects.
Carl: “A security group sent me an email with a picture... these kids destroyed some electrical stuff, did a couple thousand dollars worth of damage. Do you recognize them? My guys, four answers immediately. It’s so and so, it’s so and so. Had one today: ‘saw this guy prowling cars and couldn’t get to him, do you recognize him?’ Yep, so-and-so.”
But Straub says the downtown station does more than catch criminals. Judi Carl and her officers answer people’s questions. They ask business owners to contact them directly with problems. And then there’s Information Station, an idea in which officers span across downtown and hand out information on Spokane’s resources.
Carl: “For everything from child care, parenting, pregnancy, health care, dental. You name it.”
Straub: “It continues to break down that isolation from the police department and the community... And if you look at the tremendous successes that Judi Carl has been able to achieve downtown, she’s clearly demonstrating what happens when you put a very talented leader right in the heart of the community.”
In Seattle, the police have been based out of precincts for more than 50 years. Seattle Police Detective Jeff Kapul says once a city reaches a certain size, you have to use precincts. Straub plans to announce plans for Spokane’s policing model in November.
Copyright 2013 Spokane Public Radio
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