May 16, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 4

Airway Heights needs a solution for rising municipal court cases

Airway Heights is stuck between a rock and a hard place with the high number of criminal activity along Hayford Road.

Take one glance at the police reports and each week 25 to 50 percent occur between the Walmart shopping complex as well as Northern Quest Resort and Casino. In last week’s edition, there were nine in those areas.

Last month, public defender Ronnie Rae said a new ruling from the United States Supreme Court restricted public defenders to 250 cases per year, or up to 400 weighted cases. Cases can sometimes be cut down, depending on their severity.

Unfortunately, Rae said if action wasn’t taken, he would hit the cap limit as soon as July, even with some cases taken by interns. New law school graduates typically have an asking price of $60,000 per year, plus benefits.

The city pursued its annexation of the shopping center on Hayford Road and Highway 2, stretching east to Deer Heights Road. While the area is proving to be a great source of sales tax revenue from the state, the city now must devote police resources to the area on a regular basis. The city is receiving the tax money, but this is where the phrase “be careful what you wish for” comes into play.

Sure, there may only be around 10 people arrested a week, but add it up and that’s 520 cases for Rae throughout the year. Under the new regulations, the rest of the city couldn’t have a single case requesting a public defender develop from an arrest. Keep in mind that every person has the right to a public defender if he or she cannot afford an attorney.

Northern Quest has consistently grown in the past several years, drawing a larger number of people to the West Plains through its concerts, restaurants, hotel and other offerings at its facility. The Kalispel Tribe also pays an annual sum to Airway Heights for utilities and emergency services provided to their properties.

Both locations in Airway Heights draw large amounts of people during the day, and it should bring up the question: is it the location, or the hours? Some 24-hour stores cut hours due to lack of nighttime demand, but also due to late night problems where there are fewer staff to handle them.

Restaurants across the Spokane region that are open 24 hours a day, or into the early morning hours also see an increase in criminal activity. It’s not an isolated problem, but one has to question if that activity would take place if a store or restaurant wasn’t open all day.

It is also important to note that the Spokane Tribe’s STEP project in western Airway Heights will have an increase on the police’s case load, although the size remains to be determined. The Airway Heights Police Department would then have to split its resources on polar ends of the city, stretching itself pretty thin in the middle. While both the Kalispel and Spokane tribes have their own police, their respective properties are in city limits, requiring a response from Airway Heights police.

Airway Heights needs to take a look at its contract with the Kalispel Tribe going forward. With the continued growth at Northern Quest and its property to the south along Hayford Road, there is still much land that can be developed. That will require additional resources in addition to the amount already needed.

In order for the city to continue funding its public defense properly, the contract should be on the table for increased payments to Airway Heights. The bottom line is that the city needs more money to prosecute people, and everyone is entitled to a public defender.

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