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Viewpoint: Waiting on police station will be a costly mistake

by Paul Cooper

From what I’ve read in the local media and online, it appears that everyone seems to agree on one thing and that is the Claremont community needs a new police station.

There is no doubt that the current station is no longer adequate both in size and its failing infrastructure. This is not surprising given the station is 46 years old and was never designed to house the number of current employees or the technology that goes into a modern public safety facility. The challenge seems to be how we get there. 

Some say they support a new station or some modifications and modernization, or keeping the existing station and retrofitting it, so it meets earthquake standards. That’s pretty much a non-starter. The engineering firm that studied the station in 2016 told the committee that the station’s construction prevented these efforts. For those who have not been to the station, its constructed of block walls with an 18-inch concrete cap for a roof. It lacks the lateral strength to withstand a significant earthquake. 

The 20/20/20 theme (20,000 square feet for $20 million over 20 years) was a suggestion by an audience member.?It was disregarded by the committee and not considered an option.

Coming to a decision on size is not a simple math calculation based on the number of police officers. Let’s not forget the first one you talk to when you call 9-1-1 is a dispatcher. The first one you talk to on the phone or see when you come in the lobby is a records clerk. The person responsible for the 1,900 persons arrested and booked into the jail last year is a jailer. None are police officers. None go in the field. There are 32 professional staff in addition to the police officers.

The department is also fortunate to have more than 160 volunteers, including reserve police officers, community patrol members (you know, the ones who conducted more than 3,000 vacation house checks last year), explorers and our Community Emergency Response Team or CERT.

When the station was first built in 1973, the professional staff numbered around 10, and there were no volunteers.  Based on just the current number of 40 officers, and please remember there were 45 back in the 1990’s, and the current professional staff, a station of 26,000 square feet is roughly 361 square feet per employee. This would put Claremont’s proposed new station right in the middle of the square footage per employee of the cities of Chino, Covina, Montclair, Pomona, Upland, Azusa, Glendora and La Verne.

While I too was an initial supporter of the parcel tax (everyone pays the same because the police are there for everyone concept) and, yes, the Colleges and the non-profits pay a share, the financing costs of the parcel tax are significantly more than a GO bond—to the tune of $2.4 million. Yes, you read that right:  $2.4 million.

So I was also persuaded to go the route of the GO bond with the hope that the Colleges would see fit to contribute. But to hold the proposed police station hostage on whether they participate or not, especially given they represent three to four percent of the calls for service for the police, means you really don’t support a new station.

To those that say they support it and recognize the need, but question the timing or the city’s current financial situation. Is that just more smoke and mirrors? The city is working to address those issues, like just about every other city throughout the state. But a new station is paid for by the GO bond, by us, not the city. Financial issues like PERS are long-term issues.

We started this process more than 15 years ago. As we continue to put off a new station, interest rates have started to climb. With that so does the cost of the station. Imagine the cost if there is a significant earthquake that red tags the facility we need the most during a critical incident?

One only need to look to the states that experienced disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the increases in construction costs, coupled with the time delays, because the work was more than the existing businesses could meet. Southern California will be no different when the large-scale and past due earthquake hits and we see increased construction costs and not enough labor. And no, the federal government doesn’t pay for new police stations after a disaster.

Claremont police are always there when we need them. They need us now, and my hope is we reach that 67 percent in June.

(To be transparent, I worked for the Claremont Police Department for 32 years, the last 10 as the chief. I still volunteer today as a reserve police officer.)

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