April 2, 2008

Toilet Not Included – Part 2

Filed under: Probable Cause — Bill @ 5:00 am
Part 1 of this series of five posts provided an overview of why putting a precast concrete building in Coeur d’Alene City Park to be used as a public safety agency staging point is a bad idea. Part 2 will reveal the City’s flimsy explanation of why the building is needed.  You may begin to wonder why the City Council and the LCDC didn’t demand more information before voting to spend $50K to $60K of your money on this project.

Is the requested facility needed because the City believes City Park is not safe?  No, if public safety was so threatened in the Park, wouldn’t the recently-completed draft of the Coeur d’Alene Parks & Recreation Master Plan have said so?  Of course it would.  Indeed, safety was mentioned in the Plan.  Here’s what it said in Chapter 3:  Recreation Needs – A. Public Involvement Findings (on page 22):  “Coeur d’Alene’s parks have an excellent reputation for safety/cleanliness.”

If there were serious safety concerns around Independence Point, City Park, and the beach, and if those concerns would have been reduced or eliminated by a precast concrete building in the Park, wouldn’t the contributors listed under Acknowledgements on Pages i and ii of the Parks & Recreation Master Plan have said that?  Of course they would.  But if you look at page 37 in the Plan, you will see that not one of the capital improvement and maintenance recommendations was for the structure that our City Council approved and our urban renewal agency agreed to fund using taxpayer dollars.  No, if there was a need for this project, the Park & Recreation Master Plan’s contributors (who included the Mayor and City Council and Parks Director) didn’t mention it.

What about police statistics?  Wasn’t there an article by Marc Stewart posted on the Coeur d’Alene Press website on March 6, 2008, with some convincing statistics?  Well, there was an article by Stewart headlined Cd’A police favor office in City Park.  The statistics hardly indicated a crime wave.  Stewart’s article noted, “Police records show that calls for service have gradually increased since 2005.  There were 214 calls for service to Independence Point last year, up from 181 in 2005.  The types of calls police respond to run the gamut of offenses including fights and public intoxication.” 

Stewart’s article was apparently based on a Coeur d’Alene Police Department press release emailed to Stewart by Sergeant Christie Wood on March 6, 2008.  Here are Page 1 of 2 and Page 2 of 2 of the press release.  Note that the release is marked “For Immediate Release” but dated “March 17, 2008.”  I would have expected Stewart’s editor to insist that his reporter seek more information rather than relying heavily on a police department’s self-serving press release.

Sergeant Wood’s statistics as reported in the Press are not compelling.  What exactly are “calls for service?”  We don’t know, because it isn’t explained in the article or press release.  Last week I emailed the Police Department and asked for a clear definition of that phrase.  When the City responds with a definition, I’ll put it here as a dated addendum.

(Addendum on 04-07-2008Coeur d’Alene Police Department Crime Analyst Liz Peterson responded today with this explanation of “calls for services.” 

In answer to your question, I have attached a list of nature calls used for Calls for Police Services. The majority of calls are triggered by a phone call to our Police Dispatch Center (either 9-1-1 emergency or the business line). When the calls come in to Dispatch, they are coded by the Nature of the Call which is a dropdown list set up in our database (see column Nature of Call on attached document) and officers are notified of the call. Sometimes we group the categories for our own reference (see Nature Group on attached document). Please note calls listed under the Nature Group Medical Assist are calls that are dispatched to both Fire and Police.

I should note that Liz responded promptly to my request when it was first submitted.  She was headed out of town for a week’s training at that time.  Today is her first day back, and she got the information to me quickly.  Thanks, Liz!)

What we do know from the Police Department’s website is that in 2005, there were 38,532 “calls for service” citywide, and in 2006 there were 41,138.  So in 2005 and 2006, the “calls for service” to Independence Point were approximately 0.5% of the total “calls for service” throughout the City.  To put it another way, approximately 99.5% of the police “calls for service” in 2005 and 2006 were somewhere other than where the City wants to spend $50K to $60K for a precast concrete building to help further reduce the 0.5% of “calls for service.”  If “calls for service” is the measuring stick for police department capital expenditures, might that $50K to $60K be better spent in other parts of the City?  Sergeant Wood fails to identify what month(s) of the year, day(s) of the week, and time(s) of day for the “calls for services” to Independence Point.  Sergeant Wood fails to identify the precise crimes that were committed, but we can reasonably assume that if they had been violent crimes against persons, she would have said so.  

Moving on…

During his presentations to the City Council and the LCDC, police Captain Steve Childers had several opportunities to reveal the City’s plan for the structure’s hours of operation and staffing.  He addressed each of those opportunities by apologetically saying they don’t know what the hours of operation will be, nor do they know how the building will be staffed.   Nice to see they have a plan. 

On March 12, 2008, Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Wayne Longo submitted a two-page memorandum to City Administrator Wendy Gabriel.  (Note:  I have compressed Longo’s original memo to fit on one page.  No content has been deleted; just compressed.)  To date, this is apparently the extent of the Police Department’s written and submitted justification for spending $50K to $60K of your money.

According to his memo, Chief Longo has identified these specific objectives which he hopes the precast concrete structure in the Park will achieve:

  • A presence within the City Park during our peak summer activity.
  • Visibility at Independence Point.
  • Enable police and fire to respond to emergencies in a more expedient fashion.
  • Use as a lost child booth.
  • Occupied daily by police and fire volunteers to provide public safety information to the general public (or as Police Captain Steve Childers repeatedly said during his presentations to Council and the LCDC, “Public relations.”)

I’ll briefly comment on each of Chief Longo’s objectives.

A police and fire presence means people, not just a building.  During the summer, none of the Park events participants require precast concrete structures.  They all use outdoor display tents (sometimes called canopies.)  The Police Chief and his Captain failed to explain why a building would create more presence than an attractive outdoor display tent.  The presence is created by the people, not the structure.

Police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and volunteers are no less visible in an outdoor display tent than inside a precast concrete structure.  

How will police and fire respond to emergencies more expediently from a precast concrete structure than from a tent?  Won’t the response time be determined by (1) where the emergency is and (2) where the first responders are, rather than whether they are coming from inside a tent or a building? 

Do you really want to take a frightened lost child inside a precast concrete structure with no restroom?  Think:  “I gotta go potty really really bad!”  Is a closed-in precast concrete structure really a comforting environment for a lost child?   

Public relations.  Why is it better “PR” for a volunteer to be inside a precast concrete structure talking across a stainless steel counter through a rollup window?  If precast concrete structures are better for “PR” that outdoor display tents, why aren’t they used by vendors for Art on the Green, Ironman, the Kootenai County Fair, etc.?  Good “PR” comes from contact with good, well-informed people, not from precast concrete structures.  And those volunteers?  How old are they?  Do you really want a geriatric volunteer cooped up inside a precast concrete structure with no restroom?   Depends.

The police, fire, and EMTs already have an effective presence within the City Park during peak summer activity.  People, not buildings, create a deterrent and beneficial presence.  Here are some observations: 

  • There is not one recorded instance of a precast concrete structure getting into a foot pursuit and chasing down a purse snatcher, a robber, a pickpocket, a flasher, or a rapist. 
  • There is not one recorded instance of a precast concrete structure administering life-saving CPR to a heart attack victim. 
  • A precast concrete structure with its roll-up window down and locked, its inside lights out, and its pedestrian door locked is a visible indicator of police absence, not police presence.

What about the Fire Department’s contribution to this “partnership?”  According to a March 14, 2008, email from Deputy Chief Glenn Lauper to Chief Kenny Gabriel, “I have not prepared any documents other then this e-mail regarding this project.”  Since this email was prepared in response to my public records request and since no Fire Department documents were responsive to that request, I conclude that the Fire Department has submitted no written documents in support of its “partnership” in the use of this structure.  Some “partnership.”

As noted in Part 1, my Idaho Public Records Law request to the City asked for the most recent five years’ strategic plans for the Police and Fire Department.  The City provided the last two Police strategic plan presentations, and it provided none for the Fire Department.  This project was not included as a long term goal for 2008-9 in either Police strategic plan.  It was not a priority.  This precast concrete structure project appears to have been concocted, approved, and funded as a solution in search of a problem.  The project is poor stewardship of public money. 

Next:  Part 3 – Who wins and who loses with this project?    


  1. Excellent work.

    Comment by Dan — April 2, 2008 @ 9:42 am

  2. Bill, great explanation. (I love the…depends!) My comment is that the Parks Master Plan is brand new. They just finished it an unveiled it a couple months ago, so you are very accurate in stating that, if there was a compelling need for this building, it would have been mentioned, somehow, in the Parks Master Plan.

    Comment by mary — April 2, 2008 @ 12:18 pm

  3. Mary,

    It’s not as if the Park & Rec Master Plan writers were trying to avoid security and safety issues. I didn’t include it in the post, but on page 57 of the Plan is this statement: “The Park & Recreation Master Plan process brought to light community concerns about personal safety using trails — something that discourages use of these facilities for more cautious pedestrians and cyclists.”

    Comment by Bill — April 2, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

  4. It concerns me still that the original quote was for $50k. Now it is $50k-$60k with seasonal transport and storage expenses. What will the cost at the begining of installation be? And what will the cost at the end of installation be? CdA NEVER stays within budget. Remember the crock pit, and the lie brary?

    Comment by concerned citizen — April 3, 2008 @ 5:50 am

  5. A mobile vehicle would make more sense. Sorry, just an after thought.

    Comment by concerned citizen — April 3, 2008 @ 5:52 am

  6. concerned citizen,

    The accepted quote was $49,800. In the March 6 Press article it said $50K to $55K. In the April 10, 2008 [sic] FY 2008-2009 Request Number___ of ___ from Longo, under Item 4 Program Costs Summary, it reads “Public Safety Structure – $60,000”. Of course, it also says there that “…three bids have been secured.” There were not three bids — there were two quotations from separate companies. The third “bid” was the State of Idaho’s Blanket Purchase Order authorization for $500K (yes, $500K) with CXT, Inc. For people not familiar with public administration financing, I’ll explain what a BPO is in Part 4. It most certainly is not a “bid” as Childers and Longo characterized it. CXT, Inc. provided the first and winning quote, but not under the BPO. The winning quote did include freight, crane rental, and setup by company technicians on a gravel surface prepared and provided by the City.

    I may have unintentionally misled you. I don’t believe the building will be disassembled and reassembled each year. The building is moveable, which means it could be broken into two pieces and then moved and reassembled, but I don’t think an annual move is planned. The City has all but said the building will be moved when the Four Corners project happens.

    re: 5. You’ve been peeking at my Part 5 draft, haven’t you? Don’t apologize. Your afterthought was better than the City’s no-thought.

    Comment by Bill — April 3, 2008 @ 8:04 am

  7. While I believe the concept of having a Police facility in the park is good, the justification is poor.

    It has long been noted in Law Enforcement that the “Mere Presence” of police is Not a deterrent to criminal activity, or in this case a “Police Building.”

    To reduce criminal activity the presence of uniform officers, making contact with citizens is essential to crime reduction.

    First, it gives those wishing to enjoy the park confidence that they are in a safe environment, and secondly it sends a message to those who may wish to involve themselves in criminal activity that their activity will not be tolerated.

    This building, as I understand, will not have a “holding area” where arrestees can be safely detained, no toilet facilities, and will only be used during the summer months.

    With this thought in mind, wouldn’t a trailer, that could be moved during the winter months for storage, be a better choice?

    In addition this trailer might also be utilized as “Mobil Command Center” that could be taken to any unforeseen incidents where the duration would justify its use.

    Comment by Dave — April 4, 2008 @ 9:37 am

  8. Dave,

    Thanks for commenting. I, too, understand the desire to have an increased presence in the Park when it is justified. Just as the City should have an increased presence anywhere else in the City when it is justified. In this project, the City did not justify the need. It could have and should have. Yet it charged ahead with a solution in search of a problem, a solution whose applicability is limited to the Park. Yes, there would have been a better way to achieve a broader objective: Develop a capability to focus short-term police presence in areas where there is a demonstrated need and where a police solution is necessary and appropriate. I plan to post Part 5 later today or earlier Saturday. Careful, thoughtful design that meets identified needs and mobility are essential.

    Comment by Bill — April 4, 2008 @ 10:07 am

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