by Jacob Jones
Continuing efforts to develop stronger police ties to Spokane neighborhoods, Police Chief Frank Straub announced Monday a new decentralized community policing structure that moves captains and detectives out into three specific geographic "police service areas."
Straub has previously discussed shifting the SPD to a precinct-based enforcement model that embeds supervisors and investigators in localized patrol districts. With the opening of a downtown substation earlier this year, Straub made his first steps in that direction. He recently assigned Capt. Judith Carl to oversee that station full-time.
In a news conference Monday, Straub announced his plans to assign two other captains to northern and southern policing areas. Detectives and Neighborhood Conditions Officers will also receive assignments to those regularly work those areas.
"This gives us the ability to be there and to really address crime issues, to address community issues and to really insert ourselves and become engaged," Straub says. "We need to be engaged at the grassroots level."
Neighborhood-level captains, detectives and officers will, for now, work out of local COPS shops, partnering with existing Neighborhood Conditions Officers and volunteers to monitor community concerns. Captains will be accountable to the neighborhoods and residents they serve.
"That police captain, in essence, will become a mini-police chief for the north, for the downtown and the south," Straub says. "So as you have issues, you don't have to go find Frank Straub, you can go and find your police captain, who has authority to coordinate resources from the whole department."
Straub indicated Capt. Keith Cummings, who now oversees Patrol operations, would take over the northern district, which encompasses neighborhoods north of the Spokane River. Cummings will oversee four NCOs and two detectives, split evenly between northwest and northeast neighborhoods.
Capt. David Richards, who now heads Patrol administration, will oversee the southern district, covering the South Hill and other neighborhoods. He will likely work out of the 29th Avenue COPS shop with two NCOs and a detective.
The new neighborhood assignments represent at least the second major department restructuring in the past year. The "police service areas" also reflect the CompStat policing model Straub has introduced in hopes of holding commanders accountable for crime trends and making more strategic patrol decisions.
Decentralizing the department has been a consistent goal since Straub took over the SPD last fall. He has made a number of significant operational changes and command staff replacements during his first year.
For now, Straub says working out of the COPS shops provides some initial flexibility for officers to start working more closely with the community without rushing to purchase new buildings. The chief says he hopes to work toward establishing physical locations for the precinct facilities by 2015. He says getting officers out into the community is a first step.
"We're moving resources out into the neighborhoods, getting a feel for where we could theoretically locate, probably in 2015, physical precincts," he says, later adding, "We're going to do this in stages. We're going to test the waters."
Straub says the new effort replicates a similar Community Policing Division at the Tacoma Police Department. That program also assigns officers to specific geographic neighborhoods throughout the city.
Mayor David Condon echoed the importance of having police officers engaged at the neighborhood level. He praised the results of the downtown police substation. Both Condon and Straub reinforced that the department would need the additional officers included in the mayor's proposed budget to implement a successful precinct system.
"We've talked a lot about community policing," he says. "We've continued to go down that path."