Monday, February 8, 2016

Documents show downtown business leaders repeatedly expressed worries about closing police precinct near STA Plaza

Posted By on Mon, Feb 8, 2016 at 1:18 PM

click to enlarge Documents show downtown business leaders repeatedly expressed worries about closing police precinct near STA Plaza
In April, Downtown Spokane President Mark Richard said that Asst. Chief Rick Dobrow had assured him he "plans to maintain the existing precinct" near the STA Plaza.

At today's Public Safety Committee meeting, City Council President Ben Stuckart passed out a packet highlighting — literally — all the unanswered questions the council still has about the decision to move the downtown precinct to the Intermodal Center. 

Last month, Scott Simmons, director of Business and Developer Services, told the Inlander that since at least March in 2015, he always understood the plan had been to move the downtown police precinct to the Intermodal Center and shut down the facility in the Peyton Building near the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza.

But records show that the problem wasn't just that the city and police department hadn't clearly communicated the intention to close the Peyton Building precinct facility to local stakeholders. It was that they communicated the opposite.

At least, that's what Downtown Spokane Partnership President Mark Richard took away from conversations with Rick Dobrow, then assistant chief.

Minutes from the Business Improvement District board of the DSP obtained by The Inlander suggest that not only did the downtown business leaders repeatedly ask for assurances that the police precinct near the plaza would not close, the city assured them it didn’t plan to.

Back in April, the minutes show DSP President Richard told the BID board that he’d discussed the precinct issue with Dobrow, stressing the importance of the precinct's current location, and Dobrow suggested he didn’t plan to move it. The STA Plaza location had long been considered a victory for local downtown businesses, many who believed the precinct’s location played an important role in suppressing nuisance activity around the plaza.

In February, Police Chief Frank Straub had presented to the city’s Public Safety Committee plans to move most of the operations to the Intermodal Center, but to keep the Peyton building precinct open as a “storefront” operation. 

“My guess is what we would do is — we have two lieutenants downtown. We’ll move one to this new facility.” Straub said, in response to a question from City Councilwoman Amber Waldref. “Our intention is to open both desks. The desk that’s downtown that’s currently opened and staffed, that would stay open. And then we would open the desk down at the Intermodal also.”

Over the next few months, BID board meetings minutes suggest, Dobrow and then-Cmdr. Brad Arleth maintained that using both facilities was still the plan.

From the April 22 BID board meeting:

Mark met with Assistant Chief Dobrow to discuss media release about new precinct to open at the intermodal facility and emphasized how important the current location of the precinct is to the downtown core. Dobrow said that he plans to maintain the existing precinct.

Dobrow, asked today about Richard's characterization of their conversation, said it wasn't so clear as that.

“I don’t remember those words. I think that in the conversations I had [with] Mark Richard, it was, we were not sure exactly what we are going to do,” Dobrow says. “At that time former Chief Straub was steering the ship, and really was the one working with asset management. Because I wasn’t the project coordinator or have a lot of input in that, I ended up kind of on the sidelines talking to the downtown business folks and trying to work through their concerns.”

Instead, he says he sought to stress that the overall policing strategy wasn't going to shift. 

"It was more of a role of reassurance, that things weren't going to change," Dobrow says. Ultimately, it wasn't up to him. He reiterated that he did not know when the city shifted from not knowing what it was going to do to officially deciding to close the STA precinct.

"Really, all of us have bosses," Dobrow says. "This was a city business decision. I'm not in the driver's seat for business decisions that come from my bosses in City Hall... I don't know the overall city asset plan when it comes to asset management."

In several subsequent meetings, however, the DSP still appeared to believe the police department wanted to keep the facility near the plaza open. 

From the May 27 BID board meeting:

Jim Hanley asked about the new precinct and whether or not the other facility in the Peyton Building will be shut down. Mark Richard responded that in his conversations with the Assistant Chief Dobrow the situation is fluid but they have no intention of closing it. Bryn West asked when the lease expires and Mark replied that it would be the spring of 2016. The City owns the intermodal building. Capt. Arleth offered that he feels it wouldn’t make sense to close the facility downtown.

Richard also said there is “good communication occurring with the city,” according to the minutes. Neighborhood Services Division manager Jonathan Mallahan was in attendance and praised Mark Richard on his performance.

From the June 24 meeting:

Alicia Barbieri asked what the status of the intermodal facility is. Capt. Arleth said they are not moved in yet and are approximately eight weeks out. The plan is to move the main operations there. They currently provide seven days of coverage and have 10 officers deployed. The downtown facility may be assigned to the chronic offender team. Alicia also asked if there will be additional staffing and Capt. Arleth replied not at this time.

Barbieri also brought up that issue during the open forum:

Alicia Barbieri mentioned that the BID pays for the lease at the current location of the downtown precinct which will end June of 2016 and asked the Board to think about that money. In the past the money was used for two bike cops in the summer.

From the September 23 meeting, the day after Chief Straub was fired.

Mark Richard updated the Board regarding the concerns with the downtown precinct lease and downtown policing resources planning. Capt. Arleth commented that with the recent change in leadership, plans are uncertain for the downtown precinct. After thorough discussion, the Board unanimously decided to have Bryn West and Mark Richard request a meeting with City Administrator, Theresa Sanders, and Interim Police Chief, Rick Dobrow, to share concerns of safety and well-being on behalf of the BID Board and the ratepayers they represent.

The October 28 meeting, unfortunately, is a bit sparse on the details:

Scott Simmons, Director of Business & Developer Services, City of Spokane, addressed the concerns of the board regarding the precinct and discussion ensued.

Rank and file police officers have also expressed concern about the move. An unnamed officer complaint to the police guild in December listed off a litany of problems with the safety and quality of the intermodal facility.

"Based on today’s climate and the current events of the world, it doesn’t seem too much to ask to be able to work in a safe and sanitary environment,” the complaint reads. 

But Dobrow said he was not shown the complaint until this month. 

“Sgt. John Griffin (VP of the Police Guild) presented me with the attached list of concerns regarding the Intermodal Precinct this morning. He told me he received the memo in December, but was trying to work through some of the listed issues before coming to me,” Dobrow wrote in an e-mail to the city clerk on Monday, Feb. 1. “I was not aware of this memo before now."

By Friday, Dobrow had announced his retirement, leading the city to move to hire former U.S. Attorney Jim McDevitt to be the "director of law enforcement" in the interim. At today's Public Safety Meeting, Council President Ben Stuckart asked a number of questions to the mayor's office about the authority of this position, and how it fit with state law and city statute. 

Meanwhile, the leader of the downtown precinct returned to work after spending a month on administrative leave for a "serious violation of policy." Though the Internal Affairs investigation still is not complete, "new information" prompted Dobrow to reinstate Arleth last week.

Stuckart's list of unanswered questions about the Intermodal facility move follows:

Unanswered Intermodal Questions

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Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters was a staff reporter for the Inlander from 2009 to 2023. He reported on a wide swath of topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.His work investigated deep flaws in the Washington...