New milestones reached in plans for police station
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - The Idaho Falls City Council met with the Idaho Falls Police Department on Monday to discuss building plans and funding requirements for a new police station.
Chief Bryce Johnson says they were “highly supportive.”
The council members and police were in agreement that the cost estimates were too high. They discussed what they could do to reduce the spending costs.
Chief Johnson says the complex needs to be built within the city’s fiscal realities and he is very grateful for the council’s support in allowing the police to work on meeting those goals.
The police complex has been a 20 year project that has been started and stopped for various reasons, including the 2009 recession.
This is the most progress the department has made in turning the project into a reality within the last two decades.
This year is the 125th birthday of the IFPD and is the first time the city has built a police station.
“What we really want to be able to do is be a modern police department that provides the services to the community that the community needs-a police department that is a community-oriented police department,” Chief Johnson said. “The main focus of this facility will be to provide space for the police department to engage in that community policing and also provide the space to train our police officers for modern policing to make sure that we’re as well trained as we possibly can be. So it accomplishes both of those missions.”
The police department first needed to establish a site for building the new complex. They purchased the stock yard on Northgate Mile last year.
They partnered with a local architecture firm and a national specialist in police facilities who provided architectural renderings for their building goals.
The architects went through everything the police department needs and established a price estimate. That estimate was higher than what they expected and what the city can afford.
Now, they have to remove needed parts of that plan to fit within the city’s budget before moving forward.
Right now, the police department is lowering their expectations so the city has the option to pay for the complex without increasing taxes. One of the options uses existing city revenue and funding.
“It’s been about 20 years to get to this point for this building, and there’s a lot of other projects the city is looking at so I believe once we get this done, it’s probably what we’re going to have for the next 15-20 years,” Chief Johnson said. “It’s probably going to be another 20 years before they start looking at building new things for the police department so we want to make sure what we do will really serve the department and serve the city well for decades to come. And I’m confident we can do that with the budget that the city can afford.”
Police will be working for the next couple of months to bring the cost of building down to an amount the city can afford. Meanwhile, the city will be actively looking at financing options to pay for it.
One of the financing options includes the certificate of participation, which is a general obligation bond. The city would prefer to build the complex without having to increase taxes for the community. Chief Johnson believes all of the city staff working together will be able to provide them with options to achieve those goals.
He says the new facility will have the capability of expanding in the future as the city grows. It will be a 30-50 year building and will serve most people during their working lifetime.
Chief Johnson says the police department has received overwhelming support from the community. He says it is understandable the community does not want city officials living in luxury and wants the police to be responsible with city spending.
“There’s nothing extravagant in it, nothing that would be a luxury," he said. "It’s police-related things that cover training, operations and community relations.”
A shooting range to regularly train officers in using police issued firearms is a sacrifice police are willing to make, though the chief says it is an important aspect of police training.
“We won’t be able to increase our training capacities with firearm proficiency because we won’t have the facilities to do that,” Chief Johnson said.
He said the department has survived without firearm training capabilities for 125 years, and they are prepared for the necessary sacrifice.
The community room may not make it into the final complex design as well. The police chief says they will have to repurpose other space for dual purposes, such as in-house training that will double as an open space for the community. Chief Johnson says they will need these functions eventually, but the city cannot afford them at this time.
“We’re grateful for what we will get,” he said.
Right now, IFPD is borrowing the law enforcement building inside the courthouse from the county. Jessica Clements, PIO for the IFPD, says that was a handshake agreement established back in the 1970s.
Chief Johnson believes the county’s goal is to expand the courts once the police department moves out of that space and into their new location.
The training annex will go back to the hands of the city to reuse however they see fit.
There are detectives also currently stationed in an old Public Works building.
“We’re scattered over a whole bunch of places, and we would all come together in one spot,” Chief Johnson said. “The places we currently are at would revert back to the county or to the department we borrowed it from. Every space we have right now is either borrowed from another government or city department or a private entity that has donated it to us temporarily. So they would all revert back to the places that have been very kind to let us borrow it.”
Chief Johnson says there is a lot of talk right now about complaints against police officers and how those complaints are made.
For the Idaho Falls Police Department, the public has to go through armed security and a metal screening to approach the front desk of the police department within the current courthouse location.
Victims who seek police help are provided with a bench in the lobby of the courthouse right next to the armed security and metal screening area. The public can walk by on their way to court and overhear conversations, making privacy and comfort for victims a main concern for the police. Some in-custody offenders being transported from the courthouse holding cell to their respective hearings also pass by the bench, making the circumstances harder for some victims.
“That doesn’t really invite community policing, it does not invite victims to come in and talk to us, it does not invite people that are angry at us to come and tell us they’re angry at us,” Chief Johnson said. “This new facility will allow the public and the police department to engage together and should help us with a lot of the problems that have occurred between the public and policing over decades and which have really been prevalent over the last several months.”
There is an interview room for witnesses and victims with two doors leading to other parts of the department. Police officers often need to use the interview room as a pass through area to other parts of the department. Signs indicating an interview is in session are used to maintain privacy, but sound carries through, making the situation less than ideal for all parties involved.
The room is also very small and also not soundproof. The cramped quarters put law enforcement in potentially dangerous situations when placed so close to a potentially volatile offender.
Evidence holding capacities within the courthouse location are also very limited. In the state of Idaho, results from rape kits may take between six and eight months to process. These types of DNA samples must be frozen. Some victims are not initially ready to move forward with pressing charges and the police must hold onto the frozen DNA evidence to effectively serve victims to the best of their abilities. Three large freezers are constantly running out of storage space and need to be re-organized to hold the amount of evidence the police department handles.
The amount of locker space for drugs and other evidence is extremely limited in comparison to the holding needs for our growing community. The drug packaging and weight area is a small hallway. The police do not currently possess the capabilities to seal large items such as weapons for storing into evidence. With the growing concern for the presence of fentanyl surfacing in stronger numbers within our community, officers are at risk of unintentionally introducing the drug into their systems due to the current subpar packing area.
Narcan is pinned to the shelves in close proximity to the drug packaging station for officer safety in emergency situations. Fentanyl requires a large air compression system that clears the illegal substance out of the airways during potential handling. Officers don’t always know when a confiscated drug may be laced with the substance and could unintentionally release the toxic drug into the air. Without the air compression system, this becomes extremely dangerous for the department and any members of the public who may be on location at the time of handling. The police purchased an air compression system at one point but it was too large to fit within the limited space and had to be returned to sender.
The current situation also doesn't give officers much room to store belongings. Filing cabinets for officers’ personal belongings are divided in half with two officers sharing one drawer. The locker room area for uniforms is poorly ventilated and each locker is a tight fit for actual needs such as boots, gun belts and attire. There is also no bike parking for officers, and many times, bike patrol officers will park their department-issued bikes in the small hallways outside of police office areas.
The HVAC system within the police designated area of the courthouse is also subpar. Proper ventilation and cooling requires dryer hoses and fans running in multiple areas of the department.
The police chief even moved his main office off-location in order to donate his large office space in the courthouse to officers in need of a break room where one microwave serves up to 60 officers. When the police chief is on-site, he borrows one of the sergeant’s offices.
"We are very very grateful to be the Idaho Falls Police Department," Chief Johnson said. "This is a great place to be a police officer, and we're very grateful to be at this stage and to have the support of the city, of the city government, of the city council, and the mayor, and the community to get this done."