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Spokane City Council okays $3.12M allocation for police vehicle purchases

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(The Center Square) – Spokane City Council members on Monday approved a one-time allocation of $3.128 million in federal grant funds to pay for 46 new police department vehicles.

The council had considered using reserve monies for the purchase, but instead opted to make the capital outlay from the city’s share of American Rescue Plan funds that were initially intended for improvements to the city’s Municipal Court Justice Building.

Additionally, the council okayed a trio of separate ARPA appropriations: $250,000 to support the city’s upcoming 50th anniversary celebration of the Expo ’74 World’s Fair; $125,000 for recruitment services in the city’s search for a new police chief and fire chief; and $259,553 for “language access” improvements.

In Monday’s discussions, council members agreed on the funding reallocation for the police vehicles which were initially authorized in 2022 and are expected to arrive soon.

Councilman Michael Cathcart called it “a critical need.” But he and fellow council members Jonathan Bingle and Kitty Klitzke agreed with a citizen’s comment that the city needs to return to a budgeted annual equipment rotation/replacement program rather than making such major one-time capital outlays.

Cathcart said the police department’s “take home” program – allowing officers to drive their patrol vehicles to and from work – was important for recruitment and retention. But councilman Zack Zappone questioned whether that was necessary all the time, saying such usage added more miles and wear-and-tear on the rigs.

Klitzke and council member Lili Navarrete said they would like to see more data from the police department on vehicle usage and “alternatives” on how dollars are spent.

The department will be receiving nearly four dozen specially equipped Ford K-8 SUVs with gas-powered engines. On Tuesday, SPD communications manager Julie Humphreys said the vehicles were purchased under a state contract through a state-designated dealership, but the order was held up for several years due to supply chain issues affecting law enforcement agencies across the nation.

The new vehicles will largely replace existing vehicles, with some additions due to increased staffing numbers, but no funds are currently designated for 2024 vehicle orders, said Humphreys. As of now, she said there are 371 vehicles in the SPD fleet, including 150 patrol cars, 93 of which are “take home” and 57 are shared in rotation by 123 officers and corporals. The fleet also includes 84 administrative and investigation vehicles, 81 specialty use vehicles (SWAT, TAC, volunteer services, etc.), 16 motorcycles, and 40 “loaner/special event” vehicles.

During Monday night’s meeting, two citizen commenters who routinely criticize police department spending, Justice Forral and Megra Flatman, faulted the appropriation, telling the council that the funds could be better spent on housing, social services, infrastructure, and community development.

Although they supported the ARPA reallocation for police vehicles, Klitzke and councilman Paul Dillon said the city still needs to address conditions at the justice center, which Dillon described as “rough, horrid.”

“We can do better,” he said.

Regarding the other ARPA distributions, council president Betsy Wilkerson and Cathcart stressed the significance of improving “language access” in city facilities, communications media, and signage. Cathcart said the program will provide “equity and access” while Wilkerson said it was important to help non-English speakers “navigate government services.”

City council communications director Lisa Gardner later said the funding will serve “as a launch pad” to research and secure contracts for translation services. Preliminary research indicates a need for Spanish, Russian/Slavic, and Marshallese translations, said Gardner.

Wilkerson and Bingle also referenced the importance of funding recruitment services in nationwide searches for the city’s next police and fire chiefs. That process is expected to take several months. The base salaries for the two positions in 2023 were $230,978 for police chief and $217,009 for fire chief.

And council members overall expressed excitement about the city’s upcoming golden anniversary of Expo ’74, which attracted an estimated 5.6 million visitors to Spokane and prompted major downtown improvements including highly popular Riverfront Park.

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