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Citing crime, drug use, Spokane ramps up police presence at Second and Division

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward announced Thursday that she has ramped up police presence at a downtown intersection known for crime, drug use and homelessness.

In a press conference, Woodward said police had completed several special emphasis days, and would now have a constant presence around Second Avenue and Division – which is near the House of Charity homeless shelter and Compassionate Addiction Treatment, which serves many people experiencing homelessness. That will require police officers to work overtime.

Police say they have confiscated numerous firearms and found people with active warrants. They’ve also arrested people for drug possession, and issued sit-lie citations. That’s a city code that bars people from sitting, or lying down on a sidewalk between six a.m. and midnight.

“What we've seen after several years of the downtown precinct focused on offering them services and resources, is that the overwhelming majority of them are not interested,” Meidl said. “If they're not interested, we have an obligation to the community to do what we can to enforce the laws, ethically, morally and fairly. That's what we're going to do, and we're going to have a zero-tolerance policy on folks that are down here breaking the law just to send a message to them, you can't break the law down here anymore.”

Meidl said police have not jailed many of the people they’ve arrested because of overcrowding at Spokane’s jail facilities. Woodward, who supports a ballot measure to expand the Spokane County jail, said police will continue to issue citations, charges and sometimes arrest, even if there isn’t a jail bed available.

“Even if we cannot arrest people who have committed a crime, and there's no room in the jail, they have to know that there is a consequence for what they're doing,” Woodward said. “They will be charged. They will be booked, and if there's room in the jail, they'll go in the jail. If they're not, they will continue to get charged and booked, because we have to reset that expectation.”

Some business owners in the area support the move, pointing to violence and vandalism. Others, such as Kel Eddings, cofounder of Compassionate Addiction Treatment, have concerns.

“Hearing what they're doing, to me is heartbreaking,” Eddings said. “We need to be going after the drug dealers, not the people using the drugs. The people are using the drugs need treatment for trauma.”

Eddings said drug users already face significant barriers to finding housing and services, and being arrested will likely harm, not help, their recovery.

They were one of a few homeless service providers who attended the press conference to raise concerns about the impact the new initiative would have on the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Woodward acknowledged that overall, crime downtown has dropped, but argued that intersection, which her team has called the “gateway to the city of Spokane” poses a challenge for businesses and tourism. She said she was also concerned about people preying on the residents of Catholic Charities’ Havens, which houses many vulnerable groups including people who previously were homeless.

When asked if her administration was working with local homeless service providers, Woodward said Catholic Charities leaders had asked for police presence.