‘The violence absolutely has to stop’: Spokane County, city leaders create regional violent crimes task force

SPOKANE, Wash. – The shooting of a Spokane police officer Sunday prompted a another wake-up call for county and city leaders that gun violence is on the rise.

The officer was inches away from losing his life to gunshot wounds. He has since been released from the hospital and recovering at home.

“The violence absolutely has to stop. Actively targeting law enforcement brings lawlessness to a whole new level,” said Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward.

On Thursday, The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, Spokane Police Department, County Commissioners, the Spokane and Spokane Valley Mayors as well as the U.S. Marshals Service announced they are all working together and creating a regional violent crime task force to help combat the rise in shootings and violent crimes.

Woodward says the city saw more than 80 shootings from the start of this year through Saturday. Those numbers don’t include the Sunday drive-by shootings. Woodward said half of those shootings were also drive-bys.

“At the current pace, we will surpass last year’s total, which was the highest in six years,” Woodward said. In 2021, there were 151 shootings, according to SPD. These numbers include shootings, “shots fired” as well as drive-bys.

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Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich says the suspects in the shooting on Sunday were affiliated with gangs.

“I can tell you that based on the information from our intelligence units, and they walked back and looked at all their records, these are gang members,” he said.

Law enforcement can identify some people affiliated with gangs by either their history or tattoos, Knezovich said.

“It’s not like we just go, ‘Oh, you have a tattoo, you’re a gang member.’ We’re looking for specific identifiers within that tattoo that point to something that makes you gang affiliated or gang involved,” he explained.

So what makes this task force different than other city or county-specific task forces? Woodward says instead of working as separate agencies, they will all come together to share information to help put a stop to it.

“The work of that violent crimes task force will enhance the work of safe streets to target violent crime and the gangs by sharing intelligence, cooperation, collaboration and coordination,” she explained.

“If you’re a gang member, if you’re a drug dealer, if you’re going to commit violent crimes in Spokane County, you are going to be arrested. You’re going to be put in jail,” added Knezovich.

Spokane County Commissioners gave the sheriff $100,000 for the effort.

“Our legislature hasn’t been as helpful as they could be and it’s time, it’s now past time for us to regroup, reorganize, get some additional funding from the board of County Commissioners,” added Larry Haskell, the Spokane County Prosecutor.

Spokane Valley Mayor Pam Haley says she will go to her city council to ask for that same amount of money for the task force. Both say that money will go toward officer and deputy overtime to dedicate time to keep repeat offenders in jail.

Knezovich and Commissioner Al French are asking people to speak up about any incidents that may happen. Knezovich said they’re not getting any information about the killing of a Spokane Valley kid in 2021, even now putting up billboards asking for information.

“This is a community effort. It’s not just law enforcement. If you see something, say something. Call Crime Check. Any lead can be a pathway to arresting somebody that would do harm to you, your family, or law enforcement officers,” French said.

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