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Urgent Communique 

by KEVIN TAYLOR & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he ballot proposal to restore Spokane County's Crime Check telephone reporting service is not really a proposition to restore Crime Check.

Even though the popular shorthand on Proposition 2 is the resurrection of the round-the-clock service to report non-emergency crimes and request police service, the reality -- reflected on the ballot title -- is that the proposed sales tax increase would pay for a $40 million digital communications system of which Crime Check is a fairly inexpensive component.

The upgrade to a digital communications system is required to meet Federal Communications Commission requirements by 2012. Spokane County has been floundering on funding for a new system since 1996.

The county system has been plagued with a communication tower collapse, the two biggest cities pulling their shares of funding because of budget woes and outdated gear.

"I have nearly been victim of a friendly fire incident because I couldn't communicate with other people who were in the room." Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich says, relating a SWAT team incident. "This is a personal issue for me when I know the people who are affected."

He says the county needs to act swiftly to meet the FCC deadline for new digital gear and bandwidths. The new system will allow all police and fire jurisdictions to talk to one another and eliminate dead zones.

This is laudable, a former county commissioner says, but should not be funded by a sales tax.

Crime Check was a popular feature in Spokane County for years; it was used as an outlet for residents to report minor crimes or even suspicious activity. It fell apart in 2004 when the city of Spokane was unable to fund its share of the program during a budget shortfall.

County officials estimate it will take $1.3 million to revive Crime Check, which would then operate on a little more than $2 million a year, a small part of the $40 million estimated for the communications system.

Inexpensive, but important, law enforcement officials say.

"(County Commissioner) Todd Mielke and I went from Deer Park to the Valley on National Night Out [Against Crime], and all we heard about was Crime Check," Knezovich says.

Two bad things have happened without Crime Check, Knezovich says. Non-emergency calls plummeted from 285,000 in the last year of Crime Check to 60,000 this year at the county's new crime reporting number. In the meantime, calls to 911 have risen from 201,000 in 2004 to 217,000 this year. There are times 911 callers get a busy signal.

Bob Lincoln, planning and analysis division manager for the Spokane Police Department, agrees Crime Check has been missed.

"Crime Check, when it comes to crime analysis, that was a large portion of the data where there is a real hole now," Lincoln says. "It would tell us things like where there are car prowlings. We are missing that. If we don't have data like that we really don't know what's going on and can't be proactive."

The county proposes to pay for the communications upgrade and restoration of Crime Check with a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax.

Former Spokane County Commissioners John Roskelley and Kate McCaslin criticize the use of sales tax to pay for the new system.

There is a clear need for a communications upgrade but county commissioners are shirking their budget duties by proposing the sales tax to fund it, Roskelley says.

"They already have two other one-tenth of 1 percent sales taxes for law enforcement and then the mental health tax they just put in. It does my heart good to see Republicans voting for more taxes," Roskelley says.

Roskelley proposes the county -- and the other funding entities for the communications system -- use portions of the real estate excise tax funds disbursed by the state to pay for and later maintain the new communications system.

"They will tell you those funds are already spoken for," Roskelley says, citing the county's statement those funds are being used for water parks and fairgrounds improvements. To which he has a one-word answer: "Prioritize."

Roskelley says the county is artificially expanding its budget by proposing sales taxes pay for specific programs like the communications upgrade -- especially if the tax is made permanent and not phased out after a certain number of years.
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