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CDA crime fighters winning

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | February 28, 2024 1:09 AM

COEUR dA’LENE — Crime is continuing to fall to record-low numbers in Coeur d’Alene.

“The way Coeur d’Alene does policing is remarkably different from a lot of other agencies in the Pacific Northwest,” said Lee White, police chief.

Part 1 crimes, which include aggravated assault, arson, burglary, rape and robbery, fell 3.2% to 710 offenses in 2023, compared to 734 in 2022. 

According to the Idaho State Police, Crime in Idaho publications date to 1995 and the number of Part 1 crimes reported in 2023 was a record low for the Coeur d'Alene Police Department.

In a 30-minute presentation to the Coeur d’Alene Sunrise Rotary Club at The Coeur d’Alene Resort, White cited three factors for the crime decline: Quick emergency response times; emphasis on community engagement and being proactive in finding felons and “throwing their butts in jail."

“Don't kid yourselves,” he said to about 30 Rotarians. “There are people that wake up every day and look for crimes to commit.”

White said police want the criminal element “to feel genuinely uncomfortable that when they come to Coeur d’Alene, they're going to be caught. So they can stay over in Spokane or wherever they come from and not come here to commit crimes.”

White said he often hears that drug dealers in Washington state do not come to North Idaho because of the state’s harsher sentencing laws and “the aggressiveness with which we prosecute those people or try to arrest those people."

He said police engage closely with the community by stopping at events like soccer tournaments, visiting with business owners and in general, just getting to know residents. That, in turn, encourages people to trust police and share information with them.

A downtown task force was effective at reducing crime last summer. Police recently received approval from the City Council to form an opioid task force, and this summer, for the first time, police will have a downtown eBike patrol.

Police-initiated calls in 2023 totaled 18,886, up 3% from 2022.

“Proactive enforcement piece has been a huge part of reducing crime,” White said.

He said “intelligence-led policing" is key, as technology and analysis results in decisive action and smart decisions.

For instance, officers don’t just cruise around. Police review crime maps, look for trends to see where there is trouble. If they see an increase in burglaries in a certain neighborhood, they will deploy more resources there.

“I’m a strong believer that random patrols produce random results,” White said.

Since 2014, when White arrived to lead the Coeur d’Alene Police Department, Part 1 crimes have been reduced by 66%, while population has risen to 58,000.

Part 2 crimes, such as driving under the influence of alcohol, juvenile problem, vandalism, assaults, drugs and child abuse totaled 3,661 in 2023, up less than 1% from 3,632 in 2022.

Police made 148 new arrests and 80 warrant arrests in December, with the majority for drug possession, manufacture or delivery of drugs, DUI and probation or patrol violation.

White did say residents could do a better job of safeguarding their property. Open garages, unlocked cars and bikes left on front lawns are common targets of thieves.

“People in North Idaho don’t lock their stuff up,” he said.

The police department has a force of 121, 98 of them on patrol duty or investigations. White said, while recruiting remains a challenge, his department only has about five openings.

“We are never really fully staffed,” he said.

White said, when it comes to public notification of criminal situations, "If there is a significant danger to the community, I will always put something out.”

But he said police must also be sure the community and public servants are protected, and they are not giving out information that could help suspects escape or ditch evidence.

“Everyone can expect from me that we will put information out as soon as we possibly can,” he said. 

Asked what keeps him up at night, White pointed to the escalating fentanyl threat, because it has resulted in hundreds of overdoses.

“I’m fearful at some point it’s going to touch everyone in this room," he said.

Another concern involves what he called “extremist members” in North Idaho. He fears that a "lone wolf" could act at a community event.

“A riot from Patriot Front is not what concerns me: It is people who are too crazy for Patriot Front, and those people coming down to one of our events," White said.