As part of the Police Station Steering Committee, we collaborate with the City to move the Police Station forward. My over-arching goal on this committee has been maximizing the tax payer value for the price of the bond.
Recently, I was interviewed by the DJC on the bond, campaign, and the current progress of the project.
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West Linn Police Chief Terry Timeus was as shocked as anyone when shots from a high-powered rifle were fired in the parking lot outside of the city’s police station in April 2008.
Newton Bill McMurtrey had shot and killed his estranged wife as she sat in her SUV outside of the old, red brick police station, where she apparently planned to seek help. McMurtrey then shot himself in a murder-suicide that horrified the Clackamas County community and the police force alike.
Years later, Timeus says that shocking day was by far the most poignant reminder that his officers needed a new – and safer – police station. Then West Linn voters last November passed an $8.5 million bond measure to pay for such a facility. Next week a search will begin for a design team to bring details of the future station into focus over the course of the year.
“An armed man drove right up to our building, which could’ve easily put officers in harm’s way – if they (had) walked out the door at the time, they would have been immediately confronted with a mentally deranged, armed man,” Timeus said. “A modern-day facility may not prevent that tragedy, but the officers would be able to deploy in a safer manner.”
Because the city owns only the footprint of the station and no surrounding land, officers do not have a secured parking area. But Timeus said heightened safety measures – including secure parking and other design and landscaping elements – will be high priorities for the new station. Construction is planned to begin in May 2013.
The existing station on Willamette Falls Drive, built in 1936, is inadequate for police performing even routine duties. Because the building doesn’t have shower facilities, officers who come into contact with pepper spray, blood or other bodily fluids must either go home or to a nearby fire station to disinfect themselves. Also, organization and proper storage of evidence is nearly impossible in the overcrowded building.
After touring other cities’ police stations, including a Woodburn facility designed by Group Mackenzie, Timeus has a better idea what to hope for. Large training spaces, for instance, would be a major benefit to West Linn’s bureau because it could then host conferences and receive discounted or free training opportunities.
West Linn Police Detective Chad Atkeson, left, gives a use-of-force training class to two new hires and an intern at the city’s police station. The department lacks proper training space and must place heavy file cabinets along perimeter walls because of insufficient weight-bearing capacity on second-story floors. (Photo by Sam Tenney/DJC)
“When you compare our station to a modern facility, though, everything looks like a good idea,” he said.
Police officials throughout the state seem to be in close communication about the best new designs or the worst old facilities, according to project manager Robert Galante, a private consultant working with West Linn.
“For the last 10 years or so, law enforcement in the U.S. has been under a magnifying glass,” Galante said. “People realize we need to step up a little bit and have facilities both survive an event like an earthquake and be more secure in the event of terrorism or somebody out to disrupt police services – so everybody is kind of upgrading.”
Portland City Council, for instance, recently approved $6.5 million for a new police training facility on Northeast Airport Way.
But West Linn voters were not always gung ho for the new police facility – in 2010 they rejected a bond measure that would have provided $10.8 million to purchase land and build a station on Parker Road. A citizen task force then examined the proposal for 2011 and suggested a new price, size and location.
“We did a lot of walking and knocking on doors, and a lot of the opposition came down to the economy,” said Thomas Frank, who was on the task force and is now a member of the citizen steering committee. “No one wants an extra tax bill, but frankly a lot of people didn’t realize what bad shape the existing building is in.”
The scaled-down, approved bond package will require property owners to pay a tax of 14 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value. The owner of a home valued at $285,000 will pay an extra $40 in property taxes.
The bond measure was the first of any kind passed by West Linn voters in more than a decade, according to city manager Chris Jordan. The city has already used $1.45 million to purchase land at the intersection of Eighth Avenue and 10th Street. Design and construction are expected to cost $5.85 million, according to a January project estimate. If land-use permits come through in a timely manner, Galante said the new police station should be completed by spring 2014.
“We don’t have the facilities to preserve important evidence – we have to send it out,” Timeus said. “If it’s lost in the year or two before a trial, guilty people could walk free because of that. And our officers should work in an environment that’s safe. A new facility is going to fix all of these inadequacies.”