Salem Police Chief Jerry Moore oversees a department with 190 officers, 118 civilians and 95 volunteers. They work in a facility built during the Nixon Administration, when gasoline was 36 cents a gallon, a first-class stamp was eight cents and the average price of a new sedan was just over $3,000.
Salem’s population in 1972 was 74,600. Today it marches past 160,000.
On the three television networks, standard-issue criminals were neatly dispatched by the likes of “Police Woman” Angie Dickenson. In 2017, Claire Daines portrays a bipolar CIA officer defusing international terrorist plots.
Chief Moore agreed to discuss the gap between then and now, providing insight into the urgency of replacing a police headquarters unfit for the 21st Century.
It has been said that the current police headquarters limits some functions of the department's work. How long has this been true?
I was hired in 1979 and the building is basically the same as it was then, with remodels having occurred throughout the years to accommodate growth and operational needs. Given that, I would say the current facility has had limitations since the day I was hired.
What example would you offer to explain how the lack of space limits functions?
I believe it starts at the front door. Citizen victims or folks seeking information have no privacy in which to share their needs or issues. Lack of office space limits our ability to take them anywhere private.
Once inside, crime victims are interviewed in small, unfriendly interview rooms designed for suspects, not victims. While one room has been created for children victims, the lack of soft interview rooms does not provide victims the service they deserve.
Detectives, school officers and gang officers (just as examples) work in cramped quarters or no quarters at all within the current facility. Many employees, such as dispatch or the crime lab, work in offices off site.
Our crime lab is located seven miles away and requires daily commutes to deliver or recover evidence. Evidence is stored in locations throughout the community as sufficient evidence storage within the facility does not exist.
Not all officers have lockers, and the storage of equipment they need does not exist or is sorely lacking. Vehicles they utilize are parked in public parking, unsecured and unprotected.
Special teams, such as SWAT, have limited storage or lockers for their equipment. Cramped into a small room due to necessity, they change into their duty uniforms in hallways or even outside in an adjacent alley. Vehicles they need are parked miles away and require an officer to respond to retrieve them, prior to their being able to deploy on an incident.
We have heard that the absence of conference rooms can result in training and other tasks being moved off site. Can you provide an example of that?
Conference rooms and training rooms are entirely different.
The current police facility has one designated conference room, shared by every employee of the department. This limits squad or unit meetings and often results in some meetings being delayed or held in cramped office cubicles.
Training facilities for the department consist of one small training room. Scenario and realistic training is virtually impossible in this room. Most officer training presented by our department trainers occurs off site in rented or donated facilities.
Yearly in-service training is held in Brooks, at a cost, as we lack the necessary space.
Management team meetings take place in locations such as Broadway Commons, Pringle Park or other large rooms throughout the city, often times requiring rental.
Do the limitations result in lost time that could be spent in more beneficial ways?
Travel to and from off-site training facilities is a perfect example. Providing driving time is wasted time. There are many hours lost due to the requirement of having to move training equipment from one location to another. This requires officers to spend time loading, unloading, transporting and travel from one off-site location to another.
In addition to training, many of our special teams (SWAT/HDT) have all or much of their required equipment off-site, so time is lost in getting vehicles or equipment back to the department prior to deployment for call outs.
Transporting evidence to and from our crime lab is unproductive time.
Inefficient storage, work flow and parking impacts our patrol officers daily. Simply having to search for your particular patrol car in public parking is time consuming and unnecessary and would not occur in a properly designed facility.
Why is it that the armored vehicles for the SWAT team have to be parked off site? Do they require special care?
The BEAR, our armored vehicle, has to be parked off-site because it does not fit in the parking structure nor is there ample parking for a vehicle this size. Also, since it is a $250,000 vehicle it is necessary to keep it both under cover and secure since expensive equipment is stored inside it.
Our bomb truck and associated equipment requires a secure facility to be stored in because of the very expensive electronic equipment stored inside it. No space is available near the civic center.
When the station was built in 1972, what aspects of modern-day police work were not a factor?
Security--both physical and digital--were not considerations. We do not have secure parking for our vehicles, and they are spread throughout the city. Many years ago we had pipe bombs detonate under several of our vehicles parked off site. We have had people film or tamper with our vehicles, which contain equipment worth thousands of dollars.
Technology changes have certainly changed since 1972 as has the size of our agency and the specialized equipment to safely conduct police operations. In 1972, we did not have a hostage negotiations team, a bomb team, a SWAT team or a variety of special units or teams. The simple need of storing bicycles was never a thought in 1972, nor did we have K-9s.
We have had to install cameras for audio recording in our investigative areas after legislative action required it. Technology for that need did not exist in the facility and was completed by our staff. Our computer lab needs upgrades for storage and security.
The amount of technical equipment necessary to conduct our work has increased enormously, such as radar, LIDAR, scanners (TCU) and tactical equipment.
Items as simple as power outlets do not exist, which are necessary to charge all of our accessories, computers, laptops, night vision, cell phones, radios and flashlights. On a daily basis, officers are required to take their equipment home to ensure it is properly charged for their next shift.
It seems that "make do" and "can do" are the department's prevailing attitudes. To what do you attribute this positive approach?
Our goal is to keep this city safe, and our employees strive to do that regardless of their surroundings. Customer satisfaction and problem solving are our number one goals. When we see a problem our officers love to fix it no matter what the limitations are both internally and externally.
We are blessed with good, reasonable people. We truly do “make do” with the hand we are dealt, and we don’t whine about current conditions. I try to stress a positive approach, yet we are human. For many of our officers, this current building, with all of its limitations, is all we have known or worked in.
When voters turned down the preferred plan for the new headquarters, asserting that the scale was too large, what did they not understand about the building requirements? In shaving $20 million, what aspects of the original plan are now missing? In short, what was lost?
Our City Council, following the work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force, asked for a professional review of our current and future needs, and that was what was provided. That review and plan detailed what the experts felt was necessary for a police center to serve this community for the next 40 to 50 years. Unfortunately, information relative to why a public safety facility costs so much more than a normal office building or home construction, which most people are more familiar with, was not successfully achieved.
In reducing the size and cost of the facility, our 911 center (WVCC), opportunity for suggested future growth, and some parking were eliminated.
In the original plan, there was an accommodation for community meeting space. What was the thinking behind that?
I think some people feel this police center is just a building for the police officers. While we will certainly be housed there, this is really a building for Salem, for our community and for those we serve.
Having a community meeting space will allow for our community to come to the police center, not just when they need our services, but also for other events. It allows us the chance to interact with members of our community and use their building for positive events and activities and hopefully diminishes what many often see as a negative response to “going down to the police department.” Basically, inviting the community into our home develops relationships and improves police-community relationships at a time when that is extremely important.
Salem Business Journal, April 2017