In August, Spokane developer Larry Stone produced a 17-minute film called “Curing Spokane,” which proposed several solutions to downtown Spokane’s crime and homelessness issues. The controversial video sparked debate among students and the Spokane community.
The film shows people experiencing homelessness walking and sitting around downtown, scenes of litter, used needles and broken windows. It also interviews downtown business owners discussing how crime affects their businesses and scares customers away.
Four solutions to the crime and homelessness issue are proposed in the second half of the film. First, build a new and bigger jail and have more police enforcing misdemeanors. In addition, the video said Spokane should sell the STA plaza and create and underground transit system and solve parking problems by offering more free parking and standardized rates.
Surprisingly, the truth is that crime is actually down in Spokane. According to Spokane Police Department data, crime has actually decreased over the years. Since 2016, citywide violence has decreased by nearly 15%, property crimes have decreased by nearly 16% and vehicle theft has decreased 24%.
In addition to the inaccurate exaggeration of crime in the film, the proposed solutions seem unrealistic and don’t address any core issues that are playing out downtown. The film places blame solely on individuals causing problems instead of addressing the fundamental causes of homelessness and crime.
“If you don’t understand the issue in a very deep holistic way, in a structural way, these solutions sound like they are really good ideas but when you really dig into the data and what’s happening in most communities, not just Spokane but all over the nation, you actually see that these solutions won’t help the problem,” Spokane City Council representative for District 1 Kate Burke. “The problem is that rent is going up at a rate that wages can’t keep up with.”
According to Burke, free parking and selling the STA bus system will not make a positive difference in the crime issue, but Spokane could benefit from reform around the jail and justice system.
She also does not believe there is any correlation between being harder on laws and safety, so hiring more officers to give more citations is just a waste of tax dollars.
Students at Gonzaga are doing their part to address the crime and homelessness issue. Political science major Laurel Cinti works as an intern for the Center for Justice, where she works alongside lawyers and social justice advocates. The Center for Justice works with clients to break down the barriers that are typically a result of injustices and inequality with the justice system.
“Helping people succeed in their lives by giving them opportunities is an impactful and meaningful way to deal with crime because it is an approach that understands why people engage in criminal behavior,” Cinti said.
Cinti argues that building a bigger jail and focusing on policing crime will not solve the crime issue downtown. Investing money to provide resources and create opportunities is the best way to break down criminogenic environments.
“With this approach, we are both increasing public safety and giving all people the opportunity to live a successful and promising life,” said Cinti.
Despite the video's negative depiction of downtown, the community is actually thriving more than ever.
According to Burke, Spokane received the biggest revenue back from taxes that they have in the past 10 years, crime rates are lower than ever and local businesses are booming.
“In my opinion, if you talk to the general person in Spokane they love it here and they love that there’s lots to do downtown," Burke said. "They are excited about our new transit plans, they are excited about apartment buildings and downtown living."