Mayor moves Spokane police precinct into empty East Side Library, drawing criticism from some

click to enlarge Spokane City Council voted Monday to hear more options for the space, but is it too late? - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO

Young Kwak photo

Spokane City Council voted Monday to hear more options for the space, but is it too late?

For several years, city and community leaders have floated the idea of using the East Side Library as a police precinct once the library moved into a brand new building.

But several months ago, when the library actually moved out, people became more aware of the potential uses for the empty city building. While Mayor Nadine Woodward’s administration adopted the idea of putting a police precinct in the space, community members had other proposals, from using it as a resource center to expand services provided by the Hispanic Business/Professional Association to using it as a health clinic or a technology center.

Spokane City Council held an online survey, and the majority of nearly 700 respondents said they wanted some sort of police presence in that space.

Still, some council members wanted to gather more ideas for the space and pitch a formal process for choosing what should go there. But just as they were preparing that resolution to be heard at the July 11 council meeting, Woodward decided at the end of June to move police into the building.

“I just decided to make an executive decision, which is within my purview as a strong mayor,” Woodward tells the Inlander. “The community engagement had gone on long enough, and it was time to make a decision.”

But at Monday’s City Council meeting, the council voted 4 to 2 (member Zack Zappone was absent) to pass a resolution setting out a process to lease the former library space, raising the question: Will the police precinct remain, or will something else go in that space? And with police simply moving from one space in the neighborhood to another, will it be any safer?

SUDDEN MOVE

After months of talking about options for the space, including feedback through the council-solicited ThoughtExchange survey, Woodward held a press conference in May along with Freda Gandy, executive director of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, to announce that her final plans were to create a police precinct at the old library space.

The library and the MLK center share a parking lot in East Central, and Gandy was one of the original leaders who requested the police presence there, Woodward says. (Gandy didn’t return a call seeking comment Monday.) The idea is that the MLK center will help find a behavioral health provider to share the library space with police.

At the time of the press conference in May, it still appeared Woodward might leave the final decision to the City Council.

However, as Council President Breean Beggs and City Council member Betsy Wilkerson prepared to introduce a formal “request for information” process, Woodward says she felt that enough community feedback had been solicited and it was time to make the move.

She says police had canvassed the blocks around the building and found broad community support for a precinct there, and many survey respondents said police are needed in the area to address crime.

“As our conversations continued about using the library for a police precinct, it became clear that we weren’t going to need council approval for any funding to utilize that building,” Woodward says. “It was up to me to make that decision.”

By July 1, a moving truck arrived and the precinct’s seven police officers were moved into the library from a space they’d shared for several years with St. Ann Catholic Church about six blocks away in East Central.

The move came as a surprise to many council members, with Beggs and Wilkerson decrying the circumvention of a council vote. Wilkerson gathered with protesters outside the facility the day of the move, and she and Beggs are working on an ordinance that could limit the mayor’s ability to choose the location of “essential services” without public input.

“It was brought to my attention that the Mayor has, without due process, directed the SPD to occupy the former library at East Central,” Wilkerson said in a July 5 news release. “I am beyond disturbed at her disregard for the Council process and her inability to be inclusive in her approach to hearing the complete voices of East Central residents.”

Woodward says that with the support of the East Central Neighborhood Council, the East Sprague Business Association and the neighborhood, she felt it was clear the move was what people there wanted.

COUNCIL PROCESS

Despite the move already happening, council members Beggs, Wilkerson, Lori Kinnear and Karen Stratton voted Monday night to support a resolution calling for lease proposals to be submitted by Aug. 22. An open house to discuss the proposals will follow if their plan spelled out in the resolution moves forward as approved. Council members Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle opposed the resolution.

The council also passed a resolution to site a new police precinct in East Central no later than Jan. 1, 2023, with Bingle and Cathcart opposed.

Earlier this year, the council had directed Woodward to look at purchasing the Premera Blue Cross building at 3900 E. Sprague Avenue that will be vacated once the company moves to a new campus in Kendall Yards. The idea was to use the space as a new police headquarters that could also potentially house some city court functions. But Woodward says that the building was purchased by someone else, so that discussion will need to focus on finding another space.

During conversation before the resolutions came to a vote Monday, Cathcart said, “I think we have to have police protection in that neighborhood, and that’s what people are demanding. They are demanding public safety.”

Wilkerson said the police location at the church is less than a mile from the library building, so she’s not sure what mild difference moving the same officers to the other location could make.

“I think everybody kind of assumed they were getting new officers — more police resources into the East Central [neighborhood] — but that is actually not the case,” Beggs later said. “The police precinct was already in East Central.”

Beggs said he drafted the proposal process so the community could look at a variety of ideas for the space, including possible health clinics operated by one of the major health providers in the region.

Stratton said she felt like the optics of the situation make it look like there’s infighting and nobody can get along, which needs to be addressed.

“There wasn’t any information sharing between council and the administration,” Stratton said, “and it just felt there’s a lack of trust that … we all need to work on.” ♦

Article Source: Inlander