Spokane's C.O.P.S. director saw firsthand how brazen Spokane property thieves are

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It was broad daylight, on a Saturday in January, when a young man — tall, slender, backpack on his back — walked through Patrick Striker’s open bay door at a Corbin Park alleyway. He seems to expect the shop to be empty, that whatever’s inside is free for the taking.

But then he saw Striker stand up from behind some benches in the garage. And then he saw Striker pick up a 2x4. Striker
Patrick Striker, executive director of Spokane C.O.P.S., confronted a would-be burglar with a 2x4 in January - SPOKANE C.O.P.S PHOTO
  • Spokane C.O.P.S photo
  • Patrick Striker, executive director of Spokane C.O.P.S., confronted a would-be burglar with a 2x4 in January
 suggested, with particularly colorful language, that the intruder should leave.

And as Striker, the executive director of the Spokane Community Oriented Policing Services program, dialed 911, he saw the intruder, seemingly unfazed by their confrontation, walk down the alleyway, trying handles and doorknobs, searching, in plain sight, for another opportunity and another crime. He was that brazen.

"He either just didn’t care or, I’m guessing, he was high or something," Striker says. 

In this week's cover story, the Inlander dove deep, trying to figure out why property crime is so high in Washington state and why thieves and burglars are so brazen.

It's particularly bad in Spokane — in 2014, the Spokane Metropolitan Statistical Area (which includes Spokane, Stevens, and Pend Oreille Counties) had the highest reported property crime rate in the nation. And even though initial figures suggest crime has decreased, men and women on the front line of watching property crime — guys like Striker  — see an ongoing plague. The C.O.P.S. program works with volunteers to help neighborhoods prevent crime. 

“This is very much an epidemic,” Striker says. "It’s pretty clear that property crimes are pretty much through the roof in Spokane. A lot of car prowling. Petty theft. Stealing things from cars, breaking into garages. If you leave something on your porch and turn your back it’s going to be gone." 

He's seen crime hit the Corbin Park area, where he lives. "It just seems like every single night somebody has had something broken into or had something stolen," Striker says.

Corbin Park neighbor Rick Powell had wagon wheels — painted black and gold and handed down from his grandparents —chained up in his yard. Last May, thieves snipped the chain and hawked them for $100 at a Hillyard antique shop.

"My wife was distraught," Powell says. "We loved them and we painted them." 

He's had stacks of tires stolen, too. But his family has fared better than the guy down the street, Powell says, who surprised a thief in the midst of a garage burglary and ended up being beaten so badly he went to the hospital. 

Even traditionally safe neighborhoods, Striker says, have felt something change.  

“The Five Mile neighborhood is a neighborhood has historically been pretty safe," Striker says. "We just had a meeting last month. They’re not feeling safe anymore."

And before you shrug all this off as just property crime, for victims, the psychological impact of a theft or burglary can linger.

“I used to never think about my shop being broken into,” Striker says, “and now every morning when I wake up and let my dog out, I go to my garage and check.”

Spokane County resident Jodie Sinclair hammered this theme in testimony before the legislature last year. After walking in on two career criminals robbing her house in 2011, Spokane County resident Jodie Sinclair armed her household.

“If my daughters had been home that day, as they normally would have been, I would have had two men in my home, with weapons, with 9 and 11-year-old daughters,” Sinclair said. “My 15-year-old will not sleep in her own bedroom in her basement to this day.”

Striker worries that the long-term consequences of a property crime problem will result in a kind of apathy. It's the worst case scenario: Crime doesn't decline, but people just stop bothering to report it. The official statistics will appear to show a decrease in property crime, and city leaders will celebrate. But the problem will get even worse. 

In fact, he's worried that's already happening. 

“I think most people have been reporting less, because either they just assume somebody else has reported it or they don’t see the police and they say, ‘That was a waste of time,’" Striker says. "They give up."

It’s not just the citizens that are feeling cynical and disillusioned, Striker says. He’s hearing it from cops and corrections officers, too.

"If you were to ask police officers how many times they arrest a person and it’s the same person over and over, they’ll just go off on a diatribe," Striker says. But on all fronts, he urges persistence. 

"What I tell everybody at all my meetings: If you didn’t’ report it, it didn’t happen," Striker says. “You can’t give up. You just have to keep calling.”