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In Their Shoes: Responding to homeless calls as a Spokane police officer

SPOKANE, Wash. - First, KXLY4 took you along for the ride with a Spokane firefighter to see how they help the homeless. We want to give you that same experience, this time with Spokane Police Department. Day in and day out, they answer calls regarding homeless people in the city.

There is a level of problem-solving and compassion that rides along to every call with police. It's one of the first traits we we noticed when we took a drive around Spokane with Senior Officer Ben Maplethorpe.

He knows about homelessness in the city. He's been a neighborhood resource officer for several years now.

"Every call is different. As the same as they may seem, everything is different," Officer Maplethorpe said.

As an officer downtown, he's handled homeless people from warming shelters to the streets.

"Honestly, they're wherever they want to be. There's no rhyme or reason, necessarily, other than like right now - with it being so cold, anywhere they can go to try and stay warm," Officer Maplethorpe said.

We drove for about 30 minutes before Officer Maplethorpe gets dispatched for a homeless person outside a shelter on Cannon Street.

How does a police officer handle a homeless call? It all starts with simply having a conversation.

"What is causing the issue today? Did the mental health cause the drug use or did the drug use cause the mental health issues? Those are things that we have to try to address," Officer Maplethorpe said.

And that's what he did with this woman sitting on the street.

"A woman tried to kill me," she said.

Conversations like that happen more often than not, according to Spokane Police. He said responding to these care requires patience, even when they're not.

"Am I supposed to just wander the streets with no id, no place to go," the woman said.

He said part of being an officer is helping connect people to services they need.

"With her sitting down like that, I felt a little more comfortable getting close to her. And then talking to her, figuring out what the issue was," Officer Maplethorpe said.
 
Officer Maplethorpe and this woman talked for around fifteen minutes before she grabbed a couple of her belongings and walked away.

"Nothing ever really gets accomplished sometimes with these calls. Then they just storm off. It is what it is," Officer Maplethorpe said.

But it's part of the job. Diffusing situations, and trying to connect people with the help they need through a conversation.

"My goal, obviously, is to go home safely at night. Just like, my goal is to make sure everyone else goes safely at night," Officer Maplethorpe said.

Spokane Police said with the number of warming shelters open, it's helping get a lot of homeless people off the streets.

They say for centers like House of Charity, they respond daily to calls. They even stop by to make regular business checks to make sure everything is okay.


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