What is the status of the police facilities?

| 2015 Q3 | story by EMILY MULLIGAN   | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |

Police Facilities

Lawrence’s 158 police officers are protecting and serving the city, and making the best use of their facilities. With the growth of the city – and, unfortunately, with it, the growth of crime – police have gradually taken over more varied spaces throughout town over time.

Police facilities have been a hot topic of discussion in Lawrence the past year. Last November, a proposed tax increase to fund a new $20-million police headquarters, which would have been located on McDonald Drive, failed to pass a public vote. So, for the foreseeable future, the Lawrence Police Department will continue to operate as it has for almost 20 years: from multiple facilities.

There are six different city and county locations that the Lawrence Police Department uses for staff, storage and parking. The two main buildings where the public can interact with police are the Law Enforcement Center (LEC), 111 E. 11th St., and the Investigations and Training Center (ITC), 4820 Bob Billings Parkway. The other locations are used for animal control, parking control, evidence storage, found property storage and vehicle parking.

Law Enforcement Center (LEC)

The LEC was built in 1975, nearly 40 years ago, at a cost of $3.5 million; it replaced the police department’s former home at 8th and Kentucky streets (now Fire Station No. 1). It was designed to bring together all of the law-enforcement entities at the time under one roof: police, sheriff, jail, district attorney, district court and municipal court.

Interestingly, the 2014 failed vote for a new police headquarters was an echo of a failed bond issue in 1969 for the same. The initial $6-million price tag was reduced, and voters approved the less-costly alternative.

The plan to house all of the law-enforcement entities efficiently in the LEC lasted almost 25 years, until the Municipal Court moved in 1998, and the Douglas County Correctional Facility was built in 1999.

Today, the Lawrence Police Department occupies about 7,000 square feet in the LEC. Its Patrol Division, Information Services Division, Evidence Division and Property Division are located there – 117 employees altogether.

The Police Department shares a floor with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. There is a service window where the public can engage with the police for administrative tasks, and there is a rather small open lobby space, shared with the Sheriff’s Office, where people can meet with an officer to report or discuss a case.

The non-public police space is a rectangle of plain corridors and offices, and does not have the buzz of activity or urgency normally associated with police activity. Instead, there are carpeted hallways and several pockets of offices, plus the patrol officers’ locker rooms, an exercise room with weights and two rooms of desks with computers, one for patrol officers to file their reports and one for patrol sergeants. A few interview rooms for victims, suspects and witnesses are located within the space, as well, although access to them requires crossing through what Police Chief Tarik Khatib calls “the guts of the department.”

Officers have a squad room with tables and chairs for about 30 people, where they can be briefed by their superiors or hear presentations. There is a small break room with coffee machines and a refrigerator, with seating for eight to 10 people.

The Evidence Division probably has the most creative use of space in the building. Housed in what was formerly the gym when the jail was in the LEC, pieces of evidence are catalogued on multiple “floors” of scaffolding and shelving that take advantage of the space’s high ceilings. Every bit of the room’s space is taken up with storage: Some evidence rests mere inches from the building’s ductwork.

However, Khatib says much of the catalogued evidence is moving out of the LEC. A structural engineer inspected the LEC, and particularly the Evidence Division’s ad-hoc storage method, and says the evidence’s physical weight is a strain on the floor and the building. That evidence will now be stored in the ITC.

The outside of the LEC is another shared space – shared with everyone and anyone who works in or needs access to the LEC. Police use the same public parking lot to the south of the building as the other occupants of the LEC. That means police often must park their police car in a parking spot right next to a member of the public.

“There is no secure covered parking for police vehicles,” Khatib says. “On a court day, often you’re parking in the neighborhood. Secure parking is to protect an asset the taxpayer is paying for. It is a $30,000 car with $30,000 of equipment in it. Because the parking isn’t secure, we can’t keep all of the equipment in it; we have to take out equipment when we leave the car.”

Captain Paul Fellers, 26-year police veteran, says the lack of parking security presents other concerns for patrol officers.

“We have had people approaching officers in the parking lot, threatening them and taking pictures of them and their personal cars,” Fellers says.

There is not a dedicated loading dock at the LEC. The Sheriff’s Office has a sally port with space for parking one van and one car. The Lawrence Police Department can borrow space if it needs to process an entire vehicle as evidence, but the interior space cannot be used to park patrol cars or even install IT (information technology) equipment in vehicles – that must be done outside.

Sharing a facility with the other law-enforcement entities is still part of the plan for the next police headquarters proposal – and Khatib says there will be another proposal. It will definitely include more space for all involved.

“I’d argue that they didn’t quite make it big enough to begin with. The one thing you cannot screw up is enough space,” Khatib says. “The LEC is landlocked; you can’t spread it out.”

Investigations and Training Center (ITC)

The Lawrence Police Department bought what is now the ITC in 2000 for $2 million and moved into half of the space, after much discussion of building a complete police headquarters was dismissed, Khatib says.

Initially, the other half of the building was occupied by a private business, Oread Laboratories; but the business closed, and the police department has since taken over the building’s 30,000 square feet. The police department’s original half of the building is the only part that has been renovated and fitted for police and security purposes; the structure and setup of the other half remains mostly as Oread left it.

The ITC houses the Police Department’s Administration, Investigations and Communications Services divisions. It is not open to the public around the clock; instead, it has business hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

There is no public parking; the adjacent lot accommodates staff vehicles and patrol vehicles. Inside, there is lobby space that resembles a doctor’s waiting room, where the public or those involved with a case can wait to speak with an investigating officer.

Along with offices, cubicles, locker rooms and interview rooms for the Police Department’s detectives and drug-enforcement officers, the ITC houses training space for new and current officers. There is not enough space in the ITC for an entire class of incoming officers to complete training – the Police Department often borrows space from a local business – but the space is used for training components, ongoing training and briefings.

The ITC is typically where the Police Department convenes impromptu operations in a crisis or for special events, such as Final Four celebrations downtown, although there is not usually adequate parking.

For the 2012 Final Four celebration downtown, for example, the police department cordoned off the top of the parking garage at 9th and New Hampshire streets to accommodate and secure both Lawrence and out-of-town police vehicles.

Although the ITC is much more spacious than the department’s location in the LEC, because it was never wholly renovated to be a police station, it does not and cannot fully function as such on its own.

“We had a midnight shooting with people taken to the hospital. We had suspects and multiple witnesses, so we had some in the ITC and some at the LEC, because we didn’t want all of those people congregating, and we couldn’t keep them separated in the ITC,” Fellers says. “Another time, we had a shooting of a Topeka police officer, and we had 40 to 50 people working on the case. Our command post was on the hoods of some cars in the ITC parking lot.”

The ITC has an evidence-processing area for the detectives and evidence storage, as well as a room stacked full of old paper records and an open room with clothing racks full of extra uniforms.

Khatib appreciates the additional space the ITC offers the department, but there are many reasons, not the least of which is the 15-minute drive between the LEC and ITC, for which it would be better to have the whole department’s offices under one roof.

“With the detectives and the patrol separated, we lose that combined sense of purpose. Even in the communication age, there is only so much you can do with email,” he says.

Stonebarn Terrace Building

The historic building at 2819 Stonebarn Terrace was the Lawrence Fire Medical Department’s Fire Station No. 4 until 2006.

The Lawrence Police Department uses the building’s garage portion to house vehicles; the remainder of the building’s open space and former firefighter dormitory sits empty.

Vehicles parked in the single-entry garage are specialty vehicles used in certain emergencies: a forensics vehicle, crisis-response vehicle, armored vehicle, accident-reconstruction vehicle and police motorcycles. They are all lined up facing the garage door; in order to access the vehicles farthest from the door, the other vehicles have to be moved out of the way.

The building is not as secure as the Police Department would like it to be.

“We can’t keep equipment inside the armored car, so we have to stock it each time,” Khatib says.

The Homeland Security Rescue Vehicle occupies one of the spots closest to the door.

“We have Homeland Security assets entrusted to us,” police spokesman Sergeant Trent McKinley explains. “If anyone in a 14-county area needs it, we have to send it.”

Khatib says he wished the department could make better use of the motorcycles, because they are handy in certain situations. But sending officers out to drive and park, and then having to move the other vehicles out of the way so they can bring out a motorcycle, is not the most efficient use of time.

County Maintenance Facility

For now, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office allows the Lawrence Police Department to store evidence in a two-story pole barn in the county’s road maintenance facility, just east of Haskell University, south of 23rd Street.

Wood shelves in the barn, which has no heat or air-conditioning, hold the catalogued evidence items, which are usually selected to be housed there because they are not items detectives or courts need regular access to, and because they can withstand the temperature shifts without being compromised.

The Sheriff’s Office is getting ready to move out of that building and, Khatib explains, will permit the police department to store its evidence in the new location.

Morton Building

The former Morton Block building, constructed with concrete blocks that used to be built inside of it and a metal roof, at 900 E. 15th St., is used to store the police department’s found property.

Because of conditions inside the building, it is limited to only certain types of found property: mostly bicycles. The building is not watertight, and there is often water on its concrete floor, McKinley says. So even the bicycles are susceptible to accumulating mold over time. The department previously stored cars there, but they grew mold on the upholstery.

Khatib says the Police Department tried to convert the building, which now has a playground across the small parking lot next to Burroughs Creek, into a 30,000-square-foot police building in 2002. However, neighbors objected to the building’s proximity to their homes.

“Now, there’s nothing you can do with this building but bulldoze it,” Khatib says.

Parking Garage

Animal Control and Parking Control work out of a small office built into the east side of the city parking garage at 9th and New Hampshire streets.

There are designated parking spots inside the garage for the Animal Control vehicles.

Fraternal Order of Police Shooting Range

The city does not own a facility capable of housing a shooting and target-practice range for the police department. So, the department has set up a range in the Fraternal Order of Police building, located at Lone Star Lake.

Arms and weapons-related equipment are stored at the LEC, so officers must retrieve those items and then drive the approximately 30 minutes to the Fraternal Order of Police building.

Shooting and target practice can only be done during the day, because neighbors at Lone Star Lake complained about the noise from it at night.

The Need for a Headquarters

Khatib cites dozens of practical reasons for a new police headquarters facility in Lawrence, including response-time challenges; lack of parking; lack of security for officers, crime victims and witnesses; and the dearth of space for future growth.

But he says there are other intangible reasons that are just as important, such as recruitment and morale.

“It would be nice to think we could stay downtown, but there is just no practical place,” Khatib says. “Sometimes, there are only bad options, and we have to pick the best bad option. It would be ideal to build a new facility, but the less bad option would be an existing building.”

He acknowledges the failed 2014 police headquarters vote was tied up with other city politics about previous tax increases for new facilities, such as the Lawrence Public Library and the Sports Pavilion at Rock Chalk Park. He understands people do not like to pay more taxes, yet there just is not a way to renovate or repair the current facilities to accommodate the entire department under one roof.

“Even if we fixed everything, it’s still too small, still laid out improperly. You don’t really change anything. It’s like if you take a 1985 car, put on a new paint job, and fix the window seals, it’s still a 1985 car, and it’s not reliable,” he says.

In spite of the facilities challenges, Khatib is confident, and police research bears out, that the public thinks the police are performing adequately.

“I think generally we do a really good job. If you’re doing a good job, people don’t see why you need more resources,” he says. “Building a police facility is about as exciting as buying a water heater and fixing a cracked foundation in a house – but it has to be done.”

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