Group gears up for community self defense
About a dozen citizens met at Electric City’s fire hall Monday night to organize a “community watch” group, a network of citizens who want a way to head off what they see as a rise in the city’s crime rate.
Some in the room volunteered to be a central contact for their neighborhoods, but Birdie Hensley also said forms for reporting questionable activity would be available at city hall and secured for police eyes only.
Hensley and Lonna Bussert, both city council members, called for the city to address a rising incidence of criminal activity that Hensley said cost the city $80,000 to $90,000 a year contracting with Grand Coulee’s police department.
Hensley read off a list of typical calls police respond to, ranging from suicide to car prowling to domestic violence.
Grant County Sheriff’s Detective Jay Atwood said the list wasn’t too bad, compared to other parts of the county, where sheriff’s deputies spend most of their time.
Atwood advised the group to take a lot of notes, with specifics of what community watchers consider suspicious activity. Officers can’t do anything with a vague suspicion that someone is dealing drugs out of a home, no matter how certain the caller is. They need real, tangible information on which to act — times, patterns, schedules, people involved, license plates, direction of travel and more — to build a case file to take to a prosecutor who may already have more on his schedule than he or the county budget can handle.
Even calling in traffic violations — such as speeding in your neighborhood — can be helpful, he said, if an officer then has reason to stop someone and question them, documenting the encounter.
Atwood, and Grand Coulee Police Officer Dan Holland, repeatedly emphasized that citizens should not confront anyone, just document and call it in.
“You don’t know them; you don’t know what they’re capable of,” Atwood said.
“It’s all about sharing information,” he said. “It’s all about your safety.”
Responding to comments that nothing happens when complaints are made, both officers explained the facts of life and law enforcement economics.
Electric City is not in the middle of most of the crime in the county. Deputies, and later, prosecutors, spend their time and energy where it makes the biggest difference — Moses Lake and Quincy.
Folks in Electric City who want to affect such decisions, need to be squeaky wheels to get the grease, Atwood said.
Holland noted that Grand Coulee police have filed a drug case and made arrests centered on a Delano address, but the prosecutor’s office has not yet acted.
“The bottom line is it comes down to money and time,” Holland said.
Atwood noted that the community watch group could request other officials, such as prosecutors, address the group, as well.