With space tight, city eyes moving police station

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Wed., Feb. 1, 2012
Officers say that the Norwich police station is inadequate the meet the department's 21st century needs. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Officers say that the Norwich police station is inadequate the meet the department's 21st century needs. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

With the police force, according to Mayor Peter Nystrom, “packed like sardines” in their current station house, city officials are taking tentative steps toward moving the force to new digs in the heart of the city. In his Jan. 3 "State of the City" report, Nystrom called for the move, as recommended in the 2002 Plan of Community Development.

“I strongly believe that [the police station] location should be in the downtown center,” he said. “This will provide greater stimulus for a safer and productive downtown.”

Police Chief Louis Fusaro, Sr., said that the police force has received funds from City Council to study possible locations for a new headquarters. He declined to identify specific sites, but said he felt confident a suitable space could be acquired.

Nystrom said that an architect was engaged to look at one of the sites, and that the City Council will meet with the architect in executive session Feb. 6 to discuss the site.

Fusaro said that a professional needs assessment, completed in 2007, determined that the force needs a home with 57,000 square feet of interior space - more than twice the size of the existing building. The current police station, which measures just over 21,000 square feet, was built in the late 1970s. The city already owned the riverfront property, which made it a fiscally attractive site for the station, Fusaro said.

“The building was exactly sized for us in that era,” said Deputy Chief Warren Mocek. “But policing, as people know, has changed dramatically. We fight the building on a daily basis.”

Every single space in the building serves multiple needs, which are often in conflict, he said. For example, the domestic violence victims’ advocate shares a tiny, windowless office – originally designed as a suspect interview room - with the court liaison officer. When the advocate has a client to interview, the court liaison must stop work and leave the room to protect confidentiality.

The detectives’ locker room doubles as a conference room, and now community policing coordinator Peter Camp’s “office” is crammed into one corner as well. Police bicycles are stored along the walls of the firing range, and storage rooms are jammed with stacked boxes of paper or microfilm records required by state law. Most of the offices, “designed when computers were only for the CIA,” have just two electrical outlets, said Mocek.

“When we were on Union Street, we had 18 cells,” Fusaro said. “We have eight cells here, and with the domestic violence laws being what they are now, we lock up a lot more people.”

Designing a building that fits the force’s needs would allow police to be more efficient and productive, said Fusaro. When a building functions efficiently, “you don’t need as many people to do things,” he said. In addition, moving the station back downtown “increases the [police] presence without even establishing any more patrols,” he said.

Although there’s been talk of adding a third floor to the existing station, new building codes for multi-story buildings make that unworkable, said Fusaro. “Parking here is atrocious. There’s no on-street parking,” he said. “We have a beautiful view here, but I don’t really need a beautiful view. I need more room to do what we’re doing now, instead of what we were doing 30 years ago.”

Nystrom agreed, saying that such prime waterfront property belongs in the private sector, where it can produce tax revenue for the city. “[Its] real value will be when it is once again part of our grand list,” he said in his "State of the City" report.

Both Nystrom and Fusaro pointed to the city’s 12 percent population increase in the last census. “With that comes a higher need of public safety,” Nystrom said. An increased police presence downtown will make the area more attractive to business investors, he said.

The needs assessment recommended that any new station be able to accommodate expansion over the years, with a projected lifespan of three to five decades, Fusaro said. Such forward thinking was not considered in the last move, he said, adding, “We need not to make that same mistake again.”

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