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Outdated Facilities Needing Either Renovations Or Reconstruction

Little is more important than ensuring our safety and the safety of those we care about. Although we don’t often give it much thought, when we need help we inevitably count on the police to quickly come to our aid. It’s long past time we help them.

Few have set foot in one of our local police departments unless transported there to be placed in a holding cell or asked to come in for an interview. That’s because when we need police assistance, we usually call them rather than go to them. Consequently, most people’s impressions of the interiors of police departments come from movies and television.

Most police officers spend the bulk of their time patrolling the area or answering calls. However, when their shifts start and end, they go to their assigned police department to check in and out, file reports, and bring in or interview people. Anyone who has been inside either the Dunkirk or the Fredonia Police Departments knows their space is far from optimal. Police in both locations deal with small waiting, interview, and locker rooms. Cramped settings can lead to confrontations between accused people and their accusers. This is not a good thing. Plus, the Fredonia police department, in particular, has been having trouble earning accreditation due in part to structural issues with their current facility.

Recommendations to improve these spaces have been floating around for a long time. As described in the 2017 County-wide Shared Service Property Tax Savings Plan, a lot of our tax dollars could be saved if the Dunkirk and Fredonia police departments shared a facility. This would also increase collaboration between these neighboring governments.

While there are arguments to be made for and against completely merging the police departments, bringing them together under one roof seems likely to result in improvements for both. Many things not considered when the current facilities were created could be fixed, like ensuring appropriate space to accommodate both sexes and juveniles. Merging could create more secure holding cells, modernized interview rooms, improved training and conference rooms, and updated technologies to serve our police better. Both departments could keep their materials and evidence storage separate while enhancing security, ventilation, refrigeration, and freezing of evidence. It was estimated in 2017 that potentially 30% of a new joint structure could be shared.

A more centrally located building and grounds with a larger footprint could also result in better storage spaces for patrol and other police vehicles. Keeping those vehicles sheltered when not in use would inevitably result in lower maintenance, operating, and replacement costs.

There is no reason why the two police chiefs could not work well together. Perhaps once the departments co-located, other savings could be realized, like some sharing of staff, lessening the burden on some current positions, or freeing funds to create new jobs that better serve the communities. Total personnel cost savings are likely to result either way.

Over the years, there has been more than enough hand-wringing about potential barriers. Would different pay scales cause contention? How would a centralized location affect response times? Police work can differ significantly in the City of Dunkirk and college-town Fredonia. Politics often differ in villages and cities, even when the communities abut one another. Many people think of their police departments the way they feel about schools, hospitals, and other community services. They believe it is optimal if those services, including police, are centrally located but they mean centrally located in the community where they live. Some also fear change will diminish their community identity.

Both outdated facilities will soon require either renovations or the construction of a new facility. Building new rather than pouring more funds into an already too small space will likely be more cost-effective. Take a look at the brand new centrally located State Police building on Main Street just off Millard Fillmore Drive in Dunkirk. Change is possible.

However, this will require considerable planning. Once discussions get serious, both communities may find it makes sense to reuse the vacated police space in their current locations for other things. Consolidating or expanding courts, or cost-effectively combining or adding other affiliated community service programs might be viable options.

The Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation’s Local Economic Development committee believes much could be gained for both communities, the people visiting and living in them, and the police serving those people if the Dunkirk and Fredonia police built and shared a new facility.

Patty Hammond is Economic Development Coordinator at the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation. The Local Economic Development (LED) Initiative is a standing committee of the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation (NCCF). Send comments or suggestions to Patty Hammond at phammond@nccfoundation.org

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