Editor’s note: The Merced City Council has directed staff to explore the costs of building a new, central police headquarters station, while keeping a strong neighborhood police presence. During the special meeting held Sept. 30, the council decided the new central station would be designed for a larger, more diverse police force that continues to embrace new technology and community policing. The following is from a city press release about the issue.
In 1959 Hawaii became a state, gas cost 25 cents a gallon, Eisenhower was president, and Merced built a new police station.
Much has changed in those six decades, but it’s still basically the same police station at 611 W. 22nd St. A second floor was added in 1981, however, the headquarters is still is overcrowded, has problems with the HVAC system and ceiling tiles plop down unexpectedly.
There are major safety and code issues with the structure. It was designed for a much smaller staff and built when police departments were male and cutting-edge technology was photocopies, which Xerox introduced in 1959.
“I’ve been on the police force for 23 years, and it’s been overcrowded for at least 20 of them,” said Police Chief Chris Goodwin. “The other three I was out on patrol and didn’t notice it as much.”
The Police Department and city staff have reviewed the situation and pondered solutions. They looked at new police headquarters buildings in California, and when traveling to a conference on building new police stations, staff looked at stations out-of-state.
Experts who have designed and constructed police stations for big departments like the city of Seattle, and smaller ones like Morgan Hill have evaluated the situation.
“The city needs a police headquarters station that is designed for today’s world, not the 1950s,” said City Manager Steve Carrigan. “It worked back then, but not now. It’s a nightmare situation for the men and women of the Department, and it doesn’t serve the community at all.”
At a special meeting Sept. 30, the City Council heard from the consultants who conducted a needs assessment on the police station. The Council decided that they have to plan for a station for the future, one that would grow with the city and the department. However, they also want the Department to continue to have a large neighborhood presence, possibly with “police storefronts” or some other locations for residents to meet officers and fill out reports and obtain services.
The city’s experts, McClaren, Wilson and Lawrie, Inc., said that building prices will only go up, so it will cost less money to build it now, rather than add on to it later. They also pointed out that adding on to a police headquarters isn’t like a home, where you add on another bedroom or two. With the police facility, it all grows in steps — you need to add more lockers, addition desk space for detectives or more to the existing evidence storage. It’s better to build a bigger station, and leave some space temporarily empty, and then fill it as it needed, the consultants said.
The Department currently is budgeted for 98 officers and 39 civilian staff. Council directed staff to begin planning for a future station that designed for 154 officers and 55 staff for a city of more than 120,000 people.
It would take 6 to 8 acres of land to hold the facility. Council did not make any choices on where to put the stations, that was left for a later date.
The main police station for the headquarters would be at least 50,199 square feet. It would include a dispatch center, front counter room, space for patrol officers, detectives, interview rooms and holding cells. There would workspace for specialized training community meetings, youth programs, volunteers and community policing programs.
A big issue in the current building is the shortage of locker space. The current building was designed when the department was smaller and male. Since then the department has grown and women have joined the force, so lockers for women have had to be squeezed into the existing building. But another challenge is the equipment that the men and women wear also is growing. Officers didn’t wear ballistic vests or cameras when the lockers were installed. And specialized teams like the SWAT unit mean that some officers have two uniforms to store. All of that means additional locker space is needed.
On the same site would be a support building of at least 23,784 square feet. It would used for everything from storing evidence to holding specialized vehicles. Currently officers and staff have to drive several miles across town to get evidence, pick up stored vehicles and obtain anything else that doesn’t fit into the cramped police headquarters.
There are still several issues to be decided at future council meetings: The final look of the HQ building and the price tag, how the building will be funded and location. All of the meetings on the police headquarters stations, and other council business, are open to the public. The agendas are posted online at: cityofmerced.org.