Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Pssst! Hey, Al...Wanna Buy a Warehouse?

Mike Prager's and Tom Clouse's article headlined Police say deal no conflict - Department wants to buy ex-officer's building in the Wednesday, March 16, 2005, Spokesman-Review explained that Deputy Chief Al Odenthal and the Spokane Police Department want to spend approximately $410,000 to purchase a warehouse in another city, Hillyard, to store evidence. The warehouse is owned by a retired Spokane police captain, and one of the real estate agents involved in the sale is a retired Spokane assistant police chief. The newspaper article suggests the deal may be a conflict of interest.

Most government jurisdictions have specific rules that must be followed to procure real property. For example, the regulations controlling the federal government's acquisition of real property for its agencies is found in the US General Service Administration's Federal Management Regulations, Subchapter C - Real Property. Of course, the federal regulations don't apply to Spokane. It is likely, though, that even Spokane has procedures governing how it acquires real property.

Real property acquisition rules generally require that the agency legally announce its solicitation for space and invite prospective property owners or their agents to examine the agency's requirements. Then, they can submit bids if they believe their property can meet the requirements. The objective of competitive bidding is to acquire the most suitable property at the least cost. Sole-sourcing, acquisition without competitive bidding, is sometimes necessary in an emergency.

But there is no emergency, no exigent circumstances, that justify the Spokane Police Department's sole-sourcing this purchase. Evidence is currently stored in a building constructed in 1907. The Police Department knew, or should have known, for several years that its evidence storage needs were approaching that building's capacity. The old saying that "A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part" applies to Deputy Chief Odenthal and the Spokane Police Department, too.

It seems odd that the City of Spokane is trying to buy property rather than lease it on a five- or ten-year lease. The City already has an option to buy property in Airway Heights on which it purportedly intends to build a permanent evidence storage warehouse. To purchase the Crabtree warehouse on Chief Odenthal's assurance that he would be able to sell it at a profit if and when the Airway Heights facility is built seems recklessly speculative. Odenthal might be correct, but he's almost certain to be retired and beyond the reach of personal accountability by the time that happens.

The questions that need to be answered right away are:
  • Has the Spokane Police Department followed all applicable real property acquisition rules and regulations?
  • If those property acquisition rules were not followed, why not? What exigent circumstances or emergency existed to justify their violation?
  • Are the Spokane Police Department and the City of Spokane getting the most cost-effective and suitable space available if it purchases the Crabtree warehouse in Hillyard? Did the Police Department make an exhaustive effort to find comparable or better property in Spokane?

While the Spokesman-Review article does not make a strong case for a conflict of interest, it does suggest the Crabtree warehouse acquisition is a sweetheart deal that financially benefits some Spokane Police Department retirees. Determining exactly how the Crabtree property was selected by the Spokane Police Department might reveal something more questionable than a vague conflict of interest. How extensive was the City's solicitation for warehouse space? Were other properties considered? Why were they rejected? It would also be interesting to learn if any command-level officers currently on the Spokane Police Department had received some present benefit or had been promised future benefit in return for purchasing the Crabtree warehouse. The Washington State Auditor's Office might be able to help.


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