Spokane Police prepare for spike in crime as social distancing becomes the norm

SPOKANE, Wash. — With fewer people outside, one might guess crime in Spokane has plummeted. Police say that hasn’t been the case.

Sgt. Terry Preuninger says so far, the rises and falls of crime across the city are similar to what police were seeing before social distancing became the new normal to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“However, as times are not really that normal, we’re aware that could impact what we’re going to see in the future,” he says.

Preuninger does not know exactly what is behind the trend, but offers up a couple of explanations. He says there is a chance with fewer people outside, criminals feel more confident. Plus, the Spokane County Jail is releasing some inmates due to the coronavirus.

“We are not going to anticipate that people are going to be released and look around and say, ‘wow, I was released because of this crisis that’s taking place, therefore, I’m just gonna stop committing crimes and do the right thing and help out the person next to me.’ I’m not saying that can’t happen, but we don’t anticipate that,” Preuninger says. “We have to assume if there are more people on the street who are willing to commit crimes, there’s gonna be a rise, and we have to be prepared.”

Right now, Spokane Police are focusing their patrols on commercial crimes like burglaries. They figure since downtown looks similar to a ghost town, shops that have been forced to close due to Washington’s stay home order are vulnerable. Preuninger says patrols have turned to a strategy called mission-based policing.

“We have the different patrol sectors working on those areas and recently, just in the last week, we’ve had some great success where officers have either come across and have actually been able to prevent crime because they were about to occur, or been there right there when they were occurring,” he says. “It’s just a way to really kind of focus and sharpen the way the patrol officers approach crime.”

Preuninger says the department is also going over its COVID-19 response plan on a daily basis. He tells 4 News Now SPD does not want to lose any numbers on its patrols if some officers do get sick, so leaders are looking at which departments could get by with fewer resources, if it came to that.

“We don’t have the luxury of just sitting back and hoping that everything turns out okay,” he says. “That’s not a strategy.”

A March 30 report shows compared to this time last year, property crime in Spokane is up 6%, while violent crime is down 12%.