BERLIN – A new affordable housing development. Royal Farms. Apartments on Seahawk Road.
While many are excited about the array of impending projects slated for Berlin, it’s safe to say they won’t come without a cost. Each will add to the strain on the town’s infrastructure — its water and sewer system, its roadways and its public safety providers. That, Police Chief Arnold Downing says, is why the town council’s approval of funding for the design and engineering of a new police station comes just in time.
“If we were any later, we’d be in trouble,” Downing said. “We’d be trying to catch up.”
On Monday, the town council approved a $136,800 contract with Crosby and Associates for the engineering and design of the new police station set to be built at the intersection of Bay Street and Route 113. The new station will allow Downing and his officers to move out of the cramped space they have shared with town hall since the 1960s.
“We’re hoping within the next two years we’ll have a new police station,” Mayor Gee Williams said.
No one disputes the town’s need for an updated public safety facility. Downing, who has been with the department since 1991, says the Berlin station has been out of date for at least 20 years. Modern day police stations are required to have certain security measures in place, such as segregated areas for juveniles and adults and buffers limiting access to certain parts of the station.
“Here, none of those things exist,” Downing said, adding that the station didn’t even have its own parking lot.
At the Berlin Police Station, the department’s four supervisors share a small office stuffed with two desks and a single computer. Adjacent sits the station’s main office space. There, three computers are used by seven officers. Because there aren’t enough desks for all of the department’s officers, each gets a desk drawer to call their own.
The station’s lone interview room doubles as a juvenile detention room. Because it’s not outfitted with recording equipment, suspects in serious crimes cannot be interviewed there. If police needed to speak with a suspect in a murder, the individual would have to be transported to the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office.
“We don’t want to move people more than we have to,” Downing said.
The station bathroom is shared by officers of both genders as well as by visitors. Most of the department’s records are stored in a shed at the town’s electric plant.
“There’s a chance for things to get damaged or lost when you operate like that,” Downing said. “Having everything in one place would be a plus for us.”
Along with the issues officers face in the administrative section of the police department, the cells located at the rear of the station are also a cause for concern. Though the cells are sufficient for holding prisoners, as none stay longer than six hours, officers are faced with access issues when they try to bring suspects in because the cells are situated just inside the police department’s back door. Often, friends and family members of suspects gather around the door as an officer is trying to bring someone in.
“There should not be a situation where they have access to a prisoner,” Downing said.
The back door, which opens on the town hall parking lot, could also provide an avenue of escape for prisoners. Downing recalls an incident when a prisoner climbed through the window in a cell door — used to pass prisoners things like water — and was about to walk out the back door when Downing walked in. Doors with access codes and a rear staging area would prevent similar situations.
The chief is optimistic that the station to be designed by Crosby and Associates will bring the Berlin Police Department into the future.
“The folks we’ve selected have done public safety buildings before,” he said.
The company will use models and the latest standards to determine the layout of the new station. Though it’s too early to theorize on details, Downing says the new building will provide space for each of his officers to have their own cubicle and bring the department up to current industry standards, with segregated areas for prisoners, multiple bathrooms, interview rooms and the like. He’s hopeful that the design will be done by the end of the year.
“We don’t want to rush anything and not get what we need,” he said.
The cost of the new station is not yet known but the police department’s budget for the current fiscal year includes $1 million to cover the cost of the design and to get the project started.
“That’ll take us well into the process,” Downing said.