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Mar 6, 2023 10 min read

Full steam ahead for a gunshot detection system in Spokane

Full steam ahead for a gunshot detection system in Spokane
If the cops get their way, we’re about to have a lot more digital eyes and ears on our streets (Photo illustration by Valerie Osier)
Table of Contents

CIVICS | Plus, more license plate cameras coming to a corner near you and a final reading on the Cannon historic district.

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Welcome to CIVICS, where we make sense of municipal meeting agendas in and around Spokane so you don't have to. We hope you use this weekly series to inform your daily life, take action and show up for your community.

After passing a renter protection ordinance package and a tax incentive ordinance to get more affordable housing in underutilized downtown parking lots last week, Spokane City Council is pretty quiet this week. But the Public Safety and Community Health Committee of the city council is popping with several proposals from the police department that will almost certainly have privacy advocates concerned.

We also have two cool library events for you (one is ours!) on public records and tiny homes

Public Safety & Community Health Committee

New gadgets for police

The Spokane Police Department got approved for a $1.3 million Byrne Discretionary Community Project grant to fund its technology improvement plan. The Byrne program provides federal funding for projects that improve the functioning of the criminal justice system.

The department wants to use the funding for different tools, including:

  • a cellular network scanner to ensure cell tower data is accurate
  • special cameras on poles that can fit tight spots, like attics and crawlspaces
  • special cameras and microphones for interview rooms
  • a computer-aided dispatch system pilot project
  • an upgrade to digital forensics software
  • technical training on digital forensics and other new tech
  • a drone program
  • a gunshot detector system.

We’re going to focus on the last two.

About $200,000 is earmarked to add interior, exterior and long-range drones to the SPD drone program. In the committee agenda sheet, Captain Matt Cowles said that drone usage in police work is growing and could replace the use of helicopters in urban areas. The department needs a different type of drone for different use cases. Indoor drones can be used to find armed people or clear locations to execute a search warrant while outdoor drones are used for finding subjects, locating missing people, critical incidents, and mitigating hazardous conditions, he said.  

About $150,475 of the grant is earmarked to add  additional funding to a planned gunshot detection system project. That money will be added to $1.8 million already funded by borrowing from the Spokane Investment Pool, a loan that would be repaid by advertising revenue from public wifi.

The gunshot system will be contracted from a New Mexico company, EAGL Technologies. The company has a “SMARTcity program” that offers ad-supported public wifi that funds the network and pays for the detection system, according to a public safety committee meeting agenda from July 2022.

Rather than using microphones, which pose privacy concerns, the EAGL system uses “an array of acoustic sensors” to clock when a gun has gone off in an area and notifies law enforcement and first responders. The only difference between these sensors and a microphone is that the audio is processed on the device and never stored (in theory). Gunfire detection systems have been on the rise in cities across the country and in some cases have led to unfounded arrests — like in the case of a 65-year-old Chicago man who was arrested and jailed for a year based on spotty evidence from a gunshot detection system. Elsewhere, these systems have come under fire (pun intended) for their extravagant price and relative lack of results.

Cameras to a corner near you

The committee will also be discussing a pilot Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) camera program. The police department wants to buy 13 fixed cameras ($32,500), two mobile cameras ($6,000) and the licensing for two cameras the police department already has ($3,000) from the company Flock. The purchases will be funded with Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority Program (WATPA) supplemental grant funding. The department says the cameras will be used to “scan license plates for stolen vehicles, suspect vehicles (primarily from violent crimes), and vehicles identified in Amber and Silver alerts.” The contract will total just over $45,000 for the first year and have $41,500 in yearly recurring costs.

The ACLU put out a report on Flock: “Fast-Growing Company Flock is Building a New AI-Driven Mass-Surveillance System,” in March 2022, examining the company's products, business model and plans.

The two mobile cameras will go near areas that have had a lot of drive-by shootings.

The fixed cameras will be put in areas of high traffic volume, and the department plans to seek city council authorization for more locations than they have cameras, in case they have difficulty installing them at certain intersections. The city council is set to consider approving the purchase of the cameras and the location placements on March 20.

  • S Division St / E 2nd Ave, south and west-facing
  • E Trent Ave / N Fancher Rd, west-facing
  • N Division St / W Francis Ave, north, south, east and west-facing
  • N Washington St / W North River Dr, north and south-facing
  • S Freya St / E 3rd Ave, south and east-facing
  • Palouse Highway / S Regal St, north, south and east-facing
  • W Sunset Blvd / S Cannon St, east-facing and west-facing
  • SR 291 (Nine Mile) / W Rifle Club Rd, north and south-facing
  • Maple St Bridge, north and south-facing (The Maple St. Bridge already has ALPR cameras and these ones will be migrated to the new licensing.)

Restraints

The police department also wants an alternative to leg restraints for people who are combative in custody, so they’re asking the committee to OK spending $76,300 for a new system, called the WRAP restraint, which locks a person in an upright seated position with a shoulder harness and binds their legs together so they can’t kick. According to the agenda report, WRAP restraints decrease the likelihood of injury to officers and the person restrained. The money would be enough to buy 40 WRAP restraints and 200 ankle straps through Safe Restraints, Inc., the company that makes the system.

Pilot opioid program

The Spokane Fire Department wants to start a pilot program to get opioid-dependent people into community rehabilitation programs that utilize Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD) like Buprenorphine.

When people who are overdosing on opioids are given the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone, they often experience sudden withdrawal symptoms. Studies have shown that when people who are overdosing are administered Buprenorphine shortly after coming out of overdosing, their withdrawal symptoms are alleviated and they’re more likely to go into treatment in the following 30 days. However, people rarely want to go to the emergency room to get the Buprenorphine and EMS responders currently aren’t allowed to administer it.

The fire department wants to try pairing EMS responders with its Behavioral Health Unit, which could administer Buprenorphine. The plan is to then help get people enrolled in rehab programs. The BHU is staffed by a paramedic and a licensed social worker and staffed Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., so this isn’t a 24/7 solution, but the hope is, if it works, the program could expand.

Trent and Cannon shelter talks

There’s no details on this item, but 20 minutes are set aside to discuss and get updates from the Salvation Army and Revive on the Trent and Cannon shelters.

Agenda here
Monday, March 6 at 1:15 p.m.
Council Chambers in the Lower Level of City Hall.
808 W Spokane Falls BlvdThe meeting is also livestreamed here.

File a public records request like a journalist

Spokane Public Radio, RANGE and the Inland Northwest chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists are coming together to bring you a free workshop on how you can request public records.

RSVP here
Tuesday, March 7 at 7 p.m.
Spokane Central Library on the third floor
906 W Main Ave. Spokane, WA

Spokane City Council

Final reading for Cannon historic district

The city council is set to hold the final reading of an ordinance that would create a new historic district in the Cannon neighborhood. Establishing the Cannon Streetcar Suburb Historic District would restrict the demolition of historic buildings, offer grants and tax incentives for historically appropriate improvements, and create design standards for renovations, redevelopment and new construction. Read Carl’s reporting on the history of the neighborhood and the issues the creation of the district has surfaced here.

Money for homelessness

The city is set to receive $2.8 million from a Department of Commerce grant to help move people from homelessness into housing. $2 million will go to the Trent Shelter (the agenda packet doesn’t specify for what), $656,625 will go to Housing Navigators for rapid rehousing and $150,000 will go to United Way for diversion programs.

Agenda here
Monday, March 6 at 6 p.m.
Council Chambers in the Lower Level of City Hall.
808 W Spokane Falls Blvd, Spokane, WA 99201
The meeting is also live streamed here.

Friends of the South Hill Dog Park meeting

A group of folks on the South Hill are holding a meeting to talk about a vote for a potential future official dog park in the area. Back in October, the Spokane Park Board voted against putting a new dog park in upper Lincoln Park with many people concerned about losing the natural habitats in the park. According to Feb. 9 Park Board minutes, a new location for a dog park hasn’t been found yet.

This group was originally concerned about conserving the natural habitat in Upper Lincoln Park and concerned that Spokane’s Park Master Plan doesn’t have strong language to protect natural areas. They’ll be meeting at Mullan Elementary School, 2616 E. 63rd Ave. on Monday, March 6 at 6 p.m.

(The Park Board meets on Thursday, March 9 at 3:30 p.m., but does not have their agenda up at the time of publication, so we’re not sure if the dog park will be up for discussion then. Find the agenda here once it’s posted.)

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Board of County Commissioners

Retreat

The county commissioners are holding a special meeting on Monday where they’ll have a board retreat to decide roles and conduct of the board, board processes for meetings and agendas (maybe they’ll decide to put agendas out earlier?!), application and appointment processes for advisory boards and commissions and how they’ll interact with the executive management team. After that, there’s the possibility for an executive session where they can talk about a number of things, like pending litigation, without public ears and eyes. See the notice and agenda here.

Behavioral health services

On Tuesday, the county commissioners are set to approve contracts between Spokane County Regional Behavioral Health (SCRBH) and several behavioral healthcare providers for Medicaid and non-Medicaid funded crisis services and programs in Adams, Ferry, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Spokane, and Stevens Counties until the end of the year. Frontier Behavioral Health will hold the largest contract at $11.2 million, Northeast Washington Alliance Counseling Services has a $2 million contract, Pend Oreille County Counseling Services has a $620,000 contract  and Adams County Integrated Health Care Services has a $470,000 contract.

Play ball

The commissioners are set to approve an agreement with Longball (the business entity that operates Spokane Indians Baseball) that would commit the county to match $8 million in funding to improve Avista Stadium. The agreement is to establish terms for funding and completing the needed improvements to Spokane County’s Avista Stadium. The improvements are required to keep Spokane in compliance with higher standards for stadium facilities set by Major League Baseball in 2021. If the stadium doesn’t meet them by March 2025, the Indians are out of the MLB minor league system.

It’s a matching program: The Indians will raise $8 million in funds for the changes to Avista Stadium and Spokane County agrees to provide matching funds for every dollar up to $8 million. The county will also be responsible for getting all the work done, including contracts, design, construction, permitting, etc. and all the improvements to Avista Stadium will be owned by the county.

Regular session agenda here
Tuesday, March 7 at 2 p.m.
Public Works Building
1026 W Broadway, Spokane, WA
Commissioner’s Hearing Room, Lower Level

Spokane Plan Commission

All aboard

The Spokane Plan Commission is holding a special mobile meeting to tour the new Cityline bus rapid transit line. They’ll meet and board the bus at the SCC Transit Center, make three stops, drive through Browne’s Addition and return to the transit center by 4 p.m. Get directions and parking instructions in the agenda.

Agenda here
Wednesday, March 8 at 2 p.m.
SCC Transit Center
1810 N Greene St.

Talking Tiny: Tiny homes and cohousing with Charles Durrett

Spokane group We Are Small But Mighty is hosting a talk at the Central Library all about tiny homes and cohousing. Charles Durrett, architect with the Cohousing Company, will be speaking about how these housing models can be used to help people out of homelessness and provide more affordable housing in general.

RSVP here
Wednesday, March 8 at 6:30 p.m.
Spokane Central Library, 3rd floor
906 W Main Ave. Spokane, WA

Spokane Regional Transportation Council

Cutting carbs

The council will be voting on adopting a set of projects that will receive federal funding aimed at reducing carbon emissions in the Spokane area. The SRTC is responsible for distributing funds from the Urban Carbon Reduction Program, which was established through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. According to the agenda packet, they’ll use the funds — about $3.1 million — to allocate to three projects: Fish Lake Trail Phase 1 and 2 and the Millwood Trail.  

Discussion on the horizon

The SRTC will be discussing a few key items in relation to their Horizon 2045 plan, which is their long-range plan for meeting the transportation needs of the area. This includes conducting a Bicycle Level of Traffic Stress analysis that will conclude this year to figure out the barriers  to the Regional Bicycle Priority Network outlined in the 2045 plan.

They’ll also get an update on Amtrak’s intercity and long-range passenger rail service. Part of the 2045 plan includes forecasting for population and employment growth. The agenda packet notes that while passenger rail services are usually underfunded, the infrastructure bill has increased funding opportunities enough to support expanding passenger rail as an option in the 2045 plan. Long distance rail isn’t really part of the SRTC’s usual business, but multimodal transit is, and passenger rail extends the range of people to travel without being dependent on cars or planes, so it’s something they are interested in supporting.

Agenda here
Thursday, March 9  at 1 p.m.
SRTC, 421 W Riverside Ave, Suite 504
This meeting is also available virtually here




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