The calls go to places like 9-1-1 and Crime Check, helping track down area criminals like the thief who stole a variety of items from Felts Field earlier this month. Police were able to apprehend the 24-year-old burglar after an alert citizen phoned in a concern.
A similar scenario occurred last month when a resident of the Greenacres area observed suspicious behavior and called law enforcement with the license plate of a vehicle that later turned out to be stolen.
Earlier this year, Spokane Valley Police Chief Rick Van Leuven described how community involvement can help law enforcement identify and halt a range of crimes, from domestic violence to child abuse.
“If you see something suspicious, call us,” he said. “It’s so important to stand up for the safety of your neighborhood.”
On Tuesday, Aug. 3, Van Leuven and other representatives from the Valley precinct will observe the 27th annual celebration of community policing known as National Night Out. The event, launched in 1984 by the National Association of Town Watch, is an important reminder of the positive impact local residents can have in safeguarding their neighborhoods, according to Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.
“Citizens provide an extra set of eyes and ears for police,” he said. “It’s critical when you see something happening, report it – don’t wait.”
Spokane Valley Deputy Greg Snyder is coordinating this year’s activities along with Deputy Travis Pendell of the Spokane County Sheriffs Department. As of this week, Snyder said there are around 30 events scheduled with 21 in the greater Spokane Valley area. He anticipated closer to 40 by Aug. 3.
“What’s great about National Night Out is that it really reinforces community involvement,” Snyder said. “It’s not only police getting out into these neighborhoods, it’s folks from the City Council, fire department and legislative leaders.”
Many city council meetings, including the one normally scheduled at Spokane Valley City Hall will be shelved in order for municipal officials to attend block parties. Snyder said most gatherings begin around 6 or 6:30 p.m. and wrap up before 9.
As of this year, Sheriff’s Community Oriented Policing Effort has taken over the Neighborhood Watch program from the county sheriff’s office. There are close to 1,500 Neighborhood Watch chapters throughout Spokane County with over half located in Spokane Valley. SCOPE Director Rick Scott said National Night Out continues to have the sort of positive impact as local events like the Walk for Success in Edgecliff.
“It’s a night when we celebrate the fight against crime,” Scott said. “It’s about communicating with your neighbors so everyone knows what’s going on.”
Van Leuven has described SCOPE as “one of the best community involved policing programs in the country.” There are now 18 branches throughout Spokane County including four Spokane Valley offices – University, Edgecliff, Central Valley and Trentwood. Liberty Lake, Otis Orchards and the Millwood area also have SCOPE branches. In 2008, the program accounted for over 25,000 hours of volunteer time.
Liberty Lake Police Chief Brian Asmus said community participation has been critical to the effectiveness of his department over the years. Asmus speaks at free informational events each quarter called “Meet the Chief” that cover topics like identity theft, the new cell phone law and Internet safety.
The precinct also puts out a cell phone number – 218-4899 – that residents can call to reach an on-duty officer in case of an incident. Bike patrols and even a Liberty Lake Police page on Facebook are part of the continuing emphasis on community involvement, Asmus said.
“There are a lot of good ways to get the message out,” he said.
When law enforcement encounters an issue in a Liberty Lake neighborhood, Asmus said Neighborhood Watch block captains are notified. Captains then contact fellow neighbors through a phone tree to alert them of the situation.
Whether it’s calling Crime Check or signing up to form a Neighborhood Watch chapter, Snyder said the support of citizens remains vital to local crime-fighting efforts.
“It’s such an important piece,” he said. “Don’t think it’s not your business. We rely on you to call us when something doesn’t seem right.”
Want to find out more?
To learn more about starting a Neighborhood Watch program in your area, call Deputy Greg Snyder at 477-2592. Nonemergency incidents can be reported to Crime Check at 456-2233. Child Protective Services – 363-3333 – should be notified in instances of suspected child abuse or neglect.