Making security strides at Riverfront Park
Crime call volume declines as safety plans progress
Judith SpitzerFebruary 12th, 2015
Security calls at Spokane’s Riverfront Park have fallen as the park’s security department starts to plan for $2.8 million in public safety improvements—part of the $64.3 million master plan passed by voters in November, says Jeff Bailey, acting Riverfront Park assistant director.
“We want people to feel safe in the park whether it’s 2 p.m. in the afternoon or 2 a.m. at night,” Bailey says.
Bailey, who’s been with the department for a decade, says the park’s security department responded to about 4,790 calls for service last year, compared with about 4,410 in 2013.
Last year, park security issued 116 civil infractions for fines totaling $36,088, and made 83 arrests.
Crime is down in most categories that the security department tracks except citizen contact, which was up, and that’s a good thing, he says, adding, “We have about 2,300 citizen contacts per year.”
Citizen contact calls represent people asking questions about the park and the history of Spokane, or for directions.
“In a lot of ways, our officers are first line service representatives,” Bailey says.
The remaining 2,400-plus calls were related to trespass, alcohol, drugs, animals, first aid, and several other categories, he says. There were fewer than 225 service calls related to alcohol last year, compared with almost 450 calls in 2013, and there were 150 calls related to drug use last year, down from 384 calls the year before, he says.
The park has beefed up security over the past couple of years, Bailey says, adding that the decrease in calls is largely due to the fact that park officers last year were given more authority with a limited commission designation from the Spokane Police Department.
Limited commissioned officers can make arrests and detain citizens, but they must be transported to the Spokane County Jail by regular police officers, he says.
Twelve part-time park security officers currently are employed by Riverfront Park and all but two have a limited commission. Park officers don’t carry guns, but they do have access to mace, batons, Tasers, handcuffs, and radios. The officers have access to one police vehicle, which is a police department hand-me-down that Bailey says is at the end of its lifespan. Park officers patrol on foot as well as by bicycle. Bailey says the department has access to eight bikes.
He says increased security coverage was piloted in the summer of 2014, which reduced major vandalism substantially.
“We changed over to 24-hour coverage in June last year, and we’ve seen significant reductions in vandalism and graffiti just by having bodies there all night,” he says.
He says the cost of repairing vandalism went from $44 per day to less than $13 per day.
Bailey says most of the crime in the park is for minor infractions, but people also can be cited or arrested for assault, exposure and lewd conduct, robbery, weapons violations, and disorderly conduct. Bailey adds that the security department has witnessed incidents involving a wide variety of drugs, including some resulting in felony possession charges. And he says the transient population in Spokane sometimes takes advantage of the Park’s concealed locations to be intimate.
While most city parks close at 11 p.m., Riverfront stays open until midnight. Bailey says if people are in the park after midnight, they can be cited or arrested for trespass under city ordinances, although he adds that those just walking through the park to access parking usually won’t be detained.
“When the bars close at 2 a.m., many times there will be people who choose to spend time in the park instead of going home, which is trespassing,” he adds. Security officers can cite park goers who trespass, arrest them, or call the police department to dispatch an officer to the scene.
The police department also handles security calls in Riverfront Park, says Monique Cotton, a department spokeswoman. She says in 2014, there were 331 park-related calls to SPD, with 38 cases resulting in arrest or citations issued. In 2013, those numbers were 328 service calls to the police department and 31 were arrested or cited. So far this year, through Jan. 31, there have been nine total calls at the park with one resulting in an arrest, Cotton says,
While there have been various changes and improvements at Riverfront Park, the epicenter for Expo ’74, the park hasn’t seen comprehensive changes since it was built in 1973. Bailey says the U.S. Pavilion, where his office is located, was supposed to have been torn down six months after Expo ’74.
Upcoming public safety improvements include the installation of about 30 security cameras throughout the Park, emergency phones, new lighting on main pathways and the new promenade, two improved and repaved parking lots, improved vehicular drop-off access into both the north and south ends of the Park and a park-wide, closed-circuit TV (CCTV) system, Bailey says.
A station inside an as-yet-unnamed park building would enable a dispatcher to monitor the cameras, and send an officer to a trouble spot by radio. The park department currently operates and monitors several cameras in the park but only at major sites like the Looff Carousel and the U.S. Pavilion.
Right now, the security budget is about $100,000 a year, Bailey says. Ultimately, the goal is to have additional officers, working 10-hour shifts; using part-time officers to fill the gaps, to provide that coverage, he says.
“We have to provide better safety around the clock so that people feel safe around the park,” he says.
Bailey says the plan to move the Ice Palace closer to Spokane Falls Boulevard, and closer to the other venues such as the Sky Ride will change people’s perception that the park is a dark and scary place, and encourage people to make the trip to the downtown area.
“It will add something positive to the park in terms of nightlife. Bringing the venues closer to the edge of the park will enable people to see what’s going on in the park and be more inviting,” he says.
Bailey says the department also is exploring a park ranger concept for security officers in the future.
“I don’t have too many details right now as it has not been completely flushed out. But some of the changes could be a rebranding of the park security department to a park ranger department. We feel this may better describe our staff as not only an extension of law enforcement but as a customer service entity,” he says.