Earlier this year, thanks in part
to a big Inlander
story about the property crime epidemic in Washington state, law enforcement agencies in Spokane County received
a one-time boost of $300,000 from the legislature to fight property crime.
After decreasing significantly during 2014 and 2015, property crime has been increasing slightly
during the first half of 2016 — vehicle thefts, in particular, have been increasing.
Because of a mistake by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs — which is dispersing the $300,000 — local law enforcement haven't actually received
the funding yet, putting law enforcement two months behind their planned roll-out schedule.
While $15,000 will be taken up with indirect costs of the Association, here's how the police and sheriff's department plan to spend the rest of the money:
$60,000: Informational ad campaign
This won't go directly to making you safer. Rather, it will go to buy ads to inform you how to make yourself safer. They've already met with a public relations firm, which would buy advertisements aimed at "hardening" soft targets. Like: Lock your car. Don't leave purses or laptops or priceless family heirlooms sitting in the front seat. Open garages or unlocked homes tend to tempt thieves.
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich says the county has done public information campaigns before, in 2012 and 2013.
"I teamed up with the power companies because we had a lot of copper theft, and we did an emphasis on getting people to report copper theft. More importantly, we worked with recyclers trying to get them to let us know [about the people who] bring the material in," Knezovich says. "In 2013, we made a heavy emphasis on people reporting crime to Crime Check. One of the local billboard companies ran a series of billboards saying 'report crime.'"
(Knezovich actually got in some bit of controversy for those billboards, with a complaint filed before
the Public Disclosure Commission, objecting to billboards with the sheriff's face on it while he was running for reelection. That complaint was dismissed, though he was fined for using sheriff's department resources during his campaign
$90,000: Automated license-plate readers
The cops already use these
tools for tracking down stolen cars. They've also been useful for finding missing people and responding to Amber Alerts. However, the ACLU has raised some concerns about the databases created by these readers, which surveil both the guilty and the innocent.
$135,000: Property Crime Task Force and Neighborhood Canvasing
First, a property crime task force will be assigned to specifically go after the offenders committing the highest percentage of property crimes.
Second, officers will go door-to-door in high-crime areas to gather information, build relationships and educate neighbors on how to prevent crime through things like environmental design.
Both the sheriff's office and the police department have used task forces to attack property crime before. Knezovich says the sheriff's office used a task force in 2012 to combat burglaries. At the end of about two-and-a-half months
the department had charged alleged property criminals 228 times.
"We dropped residential burglary rates by 54 percent. And they stayed down for two years," Knezovich says. "We're starting to see the uptick for 2016."
Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl says that last year the chronic-offender unit consisting of two officers focused on vehicle theft. It wasn't just about making arrests, it was about connecting chronic offenders with services.
"[With] constant followup — offering services, offering jobs, mental health treatment, drug treatment — we were able to see a 27 percent decrease in the vehicle thefts [in the North Precinct]," Meidl says. "We are going to create a vehicle-theft task-force. Their role will be to offer services, stop by [chronic offenders'] houses throughout the week, and if they continue to break the law and steal vehicles, then we are going to have them appear and ask the judge for an increased bond."
Both the police and sheriff's department, however, say that a lot more funding is needed to make a serious dent in Spokane's property crime problem.
"We need continual funding," Knezovich told the committee. "One-time funding is not going to solve this problem. That has to be at both the state and local level."