April 25, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 1

Cheney police benefit from regional task force

Joining six-agency force enables department to receive and share information, analysis and trends to help battle property crimes

When Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich asked the Cheney Police Department to join the newly created regional Property Crime Task Force, Police Chief John Hensley knew the reason for joining wasn’t because of problems.

“We’re involved in this because we want to be a part of the solution in this region,” Hensley said.

Knezovich announced the creation of the task force April 3, linking the resources of law enforcement agencies in the cities of Cheney, Airway Heights, Spokane and Liberty Lake with forces in Spokane and Kootenai County in Idaho. Task force agencies will share data and intelligence about persons and crimes and use the information to focus resources strategically to combat crime while also educating citizens on issues within their community.

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office has been developing “intelligence led policing” to anticipate crime rather than react, and has seen successes so far this year through drops in residential and garage burglaries in the unincorporated county. Hensley said they use two programs, one that identifies clusters of specific criminal activity, when the activity occurs, methods of operation and other data while the other looks at statistics from other jurisdictions, such as what Cheney compiles in its Monthly Accountability Report.

Officers investigating crime reports take down and record a lot of information, Hensley said. Things like items taken, time of day, environmental surroundings, method of entry like a door kicked in or a window broken or forced open are all logged into databases.

Agencies in the task force will now share this information, allowing investigators to look through past reports to establish commonalities, which can then be matched up to individuals with previous convictions for specific crimes – in essence mining the data to provide analysis.

“Sometimes it’s about identifying one or two people,” Hensley said, adding that criminals are often creatures of habit in perpetrating their crimes.

“If they go through windows, they usually always go through,” Hensley said. “That’s their MO. That’s what they’re used to doing.”

While some agencies like the city of Spokane have seen increases in property crime, Cheney’s levels have been consistly cyclical over the past two-plus years. In 2010 there were 257 thefts, 6 robberies and 77 burglaries, falling to 239, 4 and 45 respectively in 2011 but rising last year to 256, 14 and 69. So far through the first three months of 2013, all three categories are down.

“Most of the thefts we have are crimes of opportunity,” Hensley said. “We investigate that as an isolated incident, but it may have tentacles elsewhere.”

Sharing data within the task force will hopefully lead to the creation of specific areas for surveillance, crime hot spots. Hensley said that requires a lot of manpower, something difficult for an agency such as Cheney’s, pulling officers away from patrol duty.

Right now the department identifies area hot spots the old fashioned way Hensley said – using colored pins. Employing task force data will help fine-tune the department’s abilities to track and anticipate crime.

“It’s like going fishing and you just hope you’re over the fish,” he said. “This will show us where the fish are.”

Hensley said the department will dedicate one officer to specifically work with the task force, a benefit economically because to do what the task force provides would be outside the department’s budget capabilities.

“This is just a better way of deploying our resources,” Hensley said.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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