‘There’s probably no better area’: Downtown business owners react to relocation of police precinct

SPOKANE, Wash. — City leaders announced Monday the Spokane Police Department will be moving its downtown precinct from the Intermodal Center to an old bank across from the STA Plaza, and local business owners say they couldn’t have picked a better spot.

It’s been five years since police officers were stationed in the downtown core. The new precinct will have space for up to 35 officers who will patrol on foot and on bike to not only make downtown more safe, but to change the narrative that often surrounds it, according to city council president Breean Beggs.

“My sense of the downtown is that it actually is a pretty safe place, but public safety is such a priority for people,” said Beggs. “It is the experience and it’s the perception and as the city has grown and become more vibrant with more people visiting it, we have struggled with that.”

A recent CompStat report from the Spokane Police Department showed violent crime in the downtown district is down 18% from this time last year, while property crime is up 28%.

The move to the downtown core was a major pillar of Mayor Nadine Woodward’s campaign, but Beggs and City councilwoman Lori Kinnear were pushing for it before she was elected.

“This model, which includes officers on bike or on foot, facilitates more interactions between officers and individuals in the neighborhood — including residents, business owners, workers, commuters, tourists and people experiencing homelessness,” said Kinnear.

Police chief Craig Meidl said the new precinct will allow the department to build on its behavioral health unit, which pairs officers with mental health professionals to care for people in crisis.

Downtown business owner Ashley Brownlee said she couldn’t be happier to hear the news.

“That is a good step in the right direction. Not everybody is just a drug addict, not everyone is just crime-laden – some people genuinely need help and they don’t know how to get it,” she said.

Brownlee owns and runs Garland Resale, and told 4 News Now things have gotten so bad outside her shop, her property managers hired a private security guard to patrol the block on weekdays.

“We had a lot of different things happen. People lighting things on fire, people getting spit on, kids laying across the sidewalks and essentially loitering and being really aggressive and really disrespectful to the building and other people,” Brownlee said. “It’s nice to know that there’s someone there, that, if something is happening, can help out and kind of, I guess, have our backs a little bit.”

Amelia Caballero works at Method Juice Bar, a few doors down from where the new precinct will stand, and told 4 News Now she doesn’t necessarily feel unsafe working downtown, but rather, unsettled.

“I have made a few friends with the homeless people that sleep right outside of the door. And you do have to step over them to get into the door in the morning,” she said. “You have, obviously, our organic juice bar and then we have people living on the streets literally right in front of it and the bus plaza, so I would say it’s a little bit of a wake up call as to what’s really going on – negatively.”

On top of $235,000 from a developer, the city needed to find $295,000 in the budget to make upgrades to the building over the next five months. The precinct will be open seven days a week starting this July.