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Police Woo Taxpayers To Support New Facility

New page on the Northampton Police Department website lays out the case for a modern station

Existing Northampton police station, built in 1965.

NORTHAMPTON – The city’s police department has launched a web page headlined Need For a New Police Facility on its department website.

The page features a lengthy narrative and links to a 2003 needs assessment study, a project timeline, a history of the project costs, and 32 photographs of the deteriorated station.

It also lists 24 problems that police officers say they face at the station each day, from a shortage of space for “effective police operations” and storage of equipment to inadequate locker rooms and interview spaces, from basement flooding and inoperable air-conditioning and heating to exposed wiring and insufficient security.

Police Chief Russell P. Sienkiewicz has said that he will work to “dispel myths” and gain public support for a Nov. 2 ballot question that seeks $10 million to help construct the new station. Total cost of the new facility is pegged at $17.6 million, and construction is estimated at about two years.

Portions of the police station's brick exterior are falling apart.

If passed by a majority of voters, the ballot measure – a debt-exclusion override of Proposition 2 ½ – would raise property taxes by about $80 for the median household in the first year, 2013, the mayor said. That cost would decrease every year until FY 2032, when the 20-year bond will be paid off. Payments for the remaining $7.6 million would be drawn under the city’s 2.65% debt cap on capital project spending within the general budget, and would not require additional taxes.

While city councilors have voted unanimously to place the police station funding measure on the ballot, some councilors have questioned whether the city is tackling too many large projects, and putting too much of a financial burden on taxpayers.

During a June meeting of the council’s Finance Committee, Ward 7 Councilor Eugene Tacy said he would vote to place the override on the ballot, but expressed concern about the cost to taxpayers. “There is no doubt in my mind the police station is a mess. . . .It’s a decrepit facility (and) we need a new police station,” Tacy said. But he added that Ward 7 voters are evenly split over whether the new station should be built now, or delayed again as it was two years ago.

Police department boiler room with asbestos.

Tacy said there needs to be a “huge public discussion” about the proposed police station, something Sienkiewicz said he hoped the new web page would demonstrate the need for.

In the new website page, the narrative – written by Sienkiewicz with assistance from other top officers and supervisors – argues that police department accreditationaccreditation might be at stake because of conditions at the current station.

“During the last two reviews and re-accreditation processes, the most glaring reservations of the assessment teams centered around the condition of our building environment and how it suits the modern law enforcement standards. It would be a travesty to the city and the department if the confirmation of best law enforcement practices were jeopardized by a dysfunctional facility,” the narrative states.

The site describes Northampton as a city which presents police challenges on a daily basis:

“Northampton covers almost 36 square miles and has a current population of around 29,000.  The city is home to a number of social service agencies, troubled youth residential programs, shelters for both people who are homeless and families escaping domestic violence, the largest regional community and veteran’s hospitals, courthouses and a number of private and public elementary, secondary and college level schools. These all require a broad variety of police services. The City also attracts a large number of visitors to its restaurants, bars and many events.”

Police officials emphasize that the department serves a geographically broad population— that “41% of our adult arrests are non-city residents; an additional 19% of those people identify themselves as homeless; and 50% of the juveniles who we arrest do not reside here.”

Sienkiewicz said the new website page was done by top brass without any help from outside consultants or media advisors, and lacks the bells and whistles typical in professionally-done PR campaigns. “We took our time and didn’t rush it,” the chief said. “It’s plain and simple. No color. No flash.. . .This is about the future of the city (and) the officers who work there.”

Related stories already posted on Northampton Media include recent City Council votes to place the funding measure on the ballot, Mayor Mary Clare Higgins’ declaration of an employee health emergency at the station because of inadequate air-conditioning, a tour of the existing police facility for Northampton Media, and an audio clip in which Sienkiewicz last month told councilors a story illustrating why a new station is needed.

Audio: Sienkiewicz on booking a violent offender at the Police Station

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