Police Facing Space Crunch

Police Facing Space Crunch

When the Vienna Police moved into their station in 1994, it was supposed to serve the department for 20 years, said Capt. Mike Miller. But now the station is bursting, and a handful of officers will be moved to the basement of Town Hall to allow for extra space.

Of the 41 sworn officers in the department, the five which form the Criminal Investigation Unit will move into the basement of town hall, Miller said. "It’s a long-term, temporary solution."

The area had been occupied by row after row of town government files. Those files are being moved to a rented storage facility. The town is considering building a new storage facility. Funding for the facility has been included in the town’s latest capital budget, said Mayor Jane Seeman. "It will be climate controlled," she said. This allows storage of more temperature sensitive materials.

The new facility is likely to serve a wide swath of town departments. "Every office needs space," Seeman said.

The police have had to reorganize their space, shifting more people into spaces than they were designed to accommodate. Rooms have had to change uses and every closet and open bit of space seems to have boxes stacked with equipment and files. "We’ve tried to use every nook and cranny," Miller said of the 9,800 square foot building.

The department is in negotiations with an architect which will evaluate the space and needs. They may be able to recommend shifting uses in the building, building an addition or a new building, Miller said. Since the negotiations are in progress, Miller can not disclose how much the services are likely to cost.

THE DEPARTMENT has only grown by two officers since 1994, Miller said. So one of the major drivers of the problem, said Miller, is space needed to accommodate today’s technology which was not envisioned in the mid-1990s. "We don’t have a real server room," Miller said.

What had been a photo processing lab was transformed into a room for most of the large computer servers necessary for modern police work. The computers which control the town’s 911 system and other needs are all packed into a tiny space with a few fans trying desperately to keep them cool.

Police technology needs are a bit different from a standard corporate set-up as well. In the event of a power outage, the police can not afford to be without their communications equipment, so a large battery back up sits in the room as well, to act as a stopgap until the station’s generator can be activated.

Another new problem is equipment needed for responding to potential biohazard incidents.

The department, Miller said, also requires space to store evidence, and that must be tightly controlled. There are differing rules for how long evidence should be stored. "I still have boxes and boxes of evidence from the 1995 homicide," he said.

In the case of an unsolved crime, the department will hold on al long as the case is open. "We would never throw that out, he said.

The building has only two "holding cells" rooms where officers can interview suspects. One of these has been taken over by the breathalyzer and more computer equipment. So in cases where officers might have two suspects in custody, it is difficult to interview them separately.

Even if there is only one suspect, the lack of space can present a problem. "We have no place to properly interview a victim," he said.

The police had been housed in the town hall basement prior to the construction of the new building, Miller said. So the unit being moved back will be returning home. Some new walls will be built in a large, empty space which will allow the five police a chance to have necessary space, including space to interview suspects.