The almost century-old building serving as the operations center for the Selma Police Department is showing its age.
Leaky ceilings, leaky windows, makeshift closets to hold weapons and training equipment and an evidence-storage room running out of space are just some of the the issues plaguing the aging structure.
In the months leading up to the November election, Selma Police Department plans to seek public support for a potential bond measure that would raise around $4 million for a new police facility. To get the measure on the November ballot, the City Council has to act, police Chief Greg Garner said.
“The building that we’re in was constructed in 1917,” Garner said. Initially designed as a railroad depot, the building was turned into a temporary police facility in 1958.
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“And ‘temporary’ has now stretched some 58 years,” he said.
During that time, the population of Selma has grown dramatically. In 1960, the city had around 7,000 residents. By January 2016, Selma’s population stood at just under 25,000, more than tripling the number of people over the preceding 56 years.
There have been a number of attempts to raise money for a new building, but other urgent concerns led to those plans being put off, Garner said.
The building is 28 feet from the train tracks. If I’m in my office and the train goes by, I have to stop what I’m doing because I can’t hear.
Selma police Chief Greg Garner
While several officers and the police chief stand in the briefing room Monday morning, the floor begins to tremble from a train going by, which happens repeatedly throughout the day.
“The building is 28 feet from the train tracks,” Garner said. “If I’m in my office and the train goes by, I have to stop what I’m doing because I can’t hear.”
On occasion, things have fallen off the train and come close to the building. “It’s nerve-wracking at times,” said Officer Jon Hissong, who has been with the department for around a year and a half.
The other issue hampering the department, which has 31 sworn officers and dozens more volunteers, is the lack of space. Most rooms must serve a dual purpose, Garner said. The briefing room is also where officers eat lunch. “There should be two separate areas for that, in my opinion,” Hissong said.
Lacking separate holding facilities for detained juveniles, they must sit on a 6-foot bench in the hallway of the facility where juveniles are kept. The shower of the men’s locker room also was taken over for storage. A 5-foot by 5-foot closet is used to hold weapons. The evidence storage room is a gutted janitor’s closet. Department records and paperwork are stored in a metal shed.
“It’s just really a burden because we don’t have the space,” Garner said.
There also is the problem with the department’s parking lot, which is ungated. “It’s open to anyone who wants to walk in,” Garner said. “We’ve had vandalized vehicles.” One officer even had her private vehicle stolen from the Police Department, Garner said.
He hopes that a ballot measure will pass allowing the city to build a roughly 20,000-square-foot facility on a lot adjacent to City Hall. The current facility is around 6,500 square feet. Ideally, half of the building’s roughly $8 million cost would come through a state grant, Garner said. The other half would be funded through a bond measure.
We’ll have officers waiting to use the computers because we don’t have enough space to put in more computers.
Once funding becomes available, the new facility could be completed in 24 to 36 months, Garner said. Asbestos in the existing structure makes renovating it uneconomical, so the current building would most likely be used for storage if a new facility is built, Garner said.
Selma City Councilman Mike Derr said he believed the council should work to get the measure on the November ballot, but he was unsure whether the council would act – or act in time for voters to consider it this fall.
“The community has lived with a second-rate police station for so long, so doing something nice would be wonderful,” Derr said. “But I don’t always represent the center-line thinking of the council.”
Selma’s officers are hopeful the council will act; they say the need is great.
“We only have three computers to do reports,” Hissong said. “We’ll have officers waiting to use the computers because we don’t have enough space to put in more computers. … And Selma’s a busy agency – we get a lot of reports.”
Sitting inside their patrol cars and writing reports also isn’t an attractive option, Hissong said. “You’re afraid someone’s going to walk up on you. It’s not real safe.”
Hissong said he didn’t believe the people of Selma were aware of the condition the building is in.
“The building is functional, but it has a lot of Band-Aids on it,” Hissong said.