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On Jan. 18, North Branford Police Chief Kevin Halloran describes conditions and issues in the outmoded town police facility, including problems from flooding due to septic system back up, which impacts areas including the men's locker room, shown here. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Deputy Chief James Lovelace shows the status of one overly-taxed workspace in the North Branford Police Department. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
The current information technology room in the North Branford Police Department. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
As if space at the department wasn't already an issue, Chief Hallaron points out NPBD is also required by the state to warehouse old evidence, cramping this locked room off the sally port. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
The department also has issues with outmoded commodes in the current holding cells. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Chief Kevin Halloran talks about conditions in the garage/sally port area of the current North Branford Police Department. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
The day room, which serves multiple purposes for the force, is located in the lower level. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Some former holding cells which are no longer up to standard for use have been converted to the department's armory. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
This security gate at the police facility is currently out of operation. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
The department's decades-old diesel emergency generator (at left) is outmoded. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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Cramped conditions, spaces converted with Band-Aid fixes to fit changing needs, flooding due to septic back-up, and jerry-rigged updates to accommodate mechanical upgrades and needed technology are just the tip of the iceberg among facility issues facing North Branford Police Department's (NBPD) aging facility at 260 Forest Road, which is also Route 22.
On Saturday, Jan. 18, interested members of the public took up NBPD's open house and facility tour invitation, and saw for themselves why an advisory police facility subcommittee, the police commission and Chief Kevin Halloran feel scrapping the current station, and building a new facility, is a priority. However, the final decision on whether to renovate or build a new facility, and the final costs for any facility changes, will rest with the Town Council, which can't act until it receives a full review and final figures.
Built over 45 years ago to accommodate a force of 8 to 10 officers, the current facility is a patchwork which includes a building addition added in the 1990's and repurposed spaces on both levels. The facility is stretched to its limit to accommodate the town's 911 dispatch center, police administrative offices and all of the areas needed to conduct police business. NBPD currently has a force of 23 sworn officers.
Resident Debbie Petroskey said the tour was eye-opening and that she felt residents who see the current state of the facility would support building a new facility.
"I think it should be a requirement for the residents to go through the building, and then you won't have a problem," said Petroskey.
Taking the Tour
On Jan. 18, Police Chief Halloran and Deputy Police Chief James Lovelace walked several small groups through facility. The two-story station was constructed by the town's Public Works Department in 1974, with an addition incorporated in the 1990's.
"Driving by [on Route 22] at 45 miles per hour, it looks pretty good from the outside," said Halloran.
It's a different story inside. After entering the small lobby next to the communications dispatch center, guests navigated a narrow set of stairs down to the ground floor and the officers' day room (the building doesn't have an elevator). The department's septic system, which needs to be pumped out two to three times per year, is prone to backing up and especially floods the men's locker room on the ground floor, via a drain in the locker room's single shower stall. The water also seeps into the bottom of a computer server closet on the other side of the wall. Wires from tech upgrades are strung along the ceiling and have been pulled through holes made in walls to access other areas of the building.
Halloran said the ground floor's booking area can become a dangerous workspace for officers. Instead of steel-mounted seats in a dedicated interview room, which would have a window between the arrestee and the officer at the computer, arrestees sit beside the computer desk on a regular chair, which could be picked up by a combative subject and used against an officer, Halloran said.
Outside, shingles are popping up on the roof, and the main gate leading to secure area behind the building is currently inoperable. A decades-old diesel generator is the department's only resource for running the town's emergency radio system and access to records management in outages caused by storms and other events. The building doesn't have a "pigtail" provision for portable generators.
Back inside, the tour showed that upgrades are needed to create purposeful work spaces and flow fitting the needs of 21st century policing, instead of a patchwork of small rooms serving double duty to accomodate growing needs. Closets and former office spaces have been repurposed for storage or as work spaces. The old photo lab acts as a gun-cleaning station as well as a space for file cabinets and other materials. Some of the original holding cells, which are no longer in use because they don't meet required safety standards, have been converted to the department's armory. The "new" holding cells in the circa 1990's addition have issues including outmoded commodes. A locked room off the single-bay sally port is rarely visited, but packed nearly floor to ceiling with old evidence that's required to be warehoused by the state. Upstairs, Halloran worries equipment in the department's repurposed information technology (IT) room, a former office space, could be damaged if the room's window air conditioning unit is taken out by a storm or other event. Signs posted on the window warn not to shut off the air conditioner or touch the settings.
"An IT room should be climate controlled, humidity controlled, temperature controlled," Halloran said. "You should not have a window in an IT room."
The room is also vital to the town's emergency services as it supports the department's computer-aided dispatch. In the area of communications upgrades, Halloran noted the facility's vintage 1970's analogue radio system, which supports both police and fire, doesn't penetrate certain buildings, causing dead spots, as well as failing to reliably provide contact to certain distant areas in town. A joint meeting of the police and fire commissions this week is set to discuss the ongoing need to upgrade the town's emergency communications.
Woking Toward Addressing Police Facility Needs
The need to address the failing police facility has been in discussion for several years. In late 2016, the town's Police Commission brought the police department's immediate building needs to the Town Council. At that time, the council determined that the town's most fiscally responsible approach would be to address a list of 18 building upgrade priorities provided by the commission, and to set a placeholder figure of $1.5 to $2 million in total costs to support any limited police building expansion and interior reconfiguration needs. Following that, a 2017 facility study was undertaken, at a cost of approximately $20,000. Next, the North Branford Police Facility and Town Center Advisory Committee was tasked by the Town Council with exploring the possibilities of renovating/expanding the current facility; or building or a new facility elsewhere on the town's extensive Route 22 property, as part of the concept for a future town center. In response to anticipated funding for the project, the council approved a $6 million police facility project line item in the 2019-20 Town budget.
In 2019, the committee determined that renovating the existing building wasn't feasible and began to focus on recommending a new facility; with two new facility designs developed as architectural renderings. After responses to a town center survey with suggested sites for a new police facility on town-owned land (including an irrigated ball field next to the police department) fell short of expectations, the committee, in October 2019, recommend to the Town Council building a new facility on town-owned land across the street from the police department, at 305 Forest Road, and requested $12,000 for a topographical survey. While the council voted in October to approve funding the topographical study, to date, no formal decision by the Town Council has been made on the fate of the current police facility or a replacement. That's because the project is still a work in progress, with more information – including any projected final costs – yet to be received by the council.
On Nov. 19, 2019, Finance Director Anthony Esposito explained to the Town Council that, while the $6 million police facility project cost was in place as part of the 2019-20 budget cycle, the council hadn't formally voted to include the $6 million in the 2019-20 through 2024-25 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) which had recently received a favorable review from Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC). Esposito further noted that "unresolved issues," including final costs,were among reasons why the Town Council should continue to wait to add the project to the CIP. The council then voted, by supermajority (8-1), to extract the $6 million which had been erroneously included in the PZC-reviewed 2019-20 through 2024-25 CIP. The police commission's effort to address project financing will be part of its upcoming 2020-21 budget request, said Police Commission member Victor Pietrandrea.
As the commission and the committee continue their work to generate all of the information the Town Council needs, Halloran said he will be working to keep residents in the loop about the need for a new facility.
"It's important, because this is their building. We work in it; but this is a town building. They're the taxpayers in town, and they should know the condition of their public buildings," said Halloran.
He said NBPD will likely hold another Open House and is also working on creating a video tour of the building that will air on Totoket TV. Halloran also welcomes input from the public. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at (203) 484-2703.
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