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Sheriff's building to expand

December 08, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

A $900,000 expansion of the Washington County Sheriff's Department patrol building is planned to help alleviate overcrowding caused by increases in staff and equipment, Washington County Administrator Rodney Shoop said Wednesday.

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Shoop said the project is in its infancy. He said he discussed the department's needs with Washington County Sheriff Charles Mades and county Public Works Director Gary Rohrer earlier this week.

"The $900,000 makes my heart beat a little fast," but the expansion is needed, Shoop said.

The patrol building was constructed in 1992 at a cost of around $700,000 and provided 6,525 square feet of office space.

Shoop and Mades said the size of the patrol building likely would need to be doubled.

Deputies use the building for processing and interviewing suspects, holding staff briefings and for doing paperwork. The department's computer system and dispatchers also are housed there.

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Shoop said the money for the project will come from the county's capital improvements budget.

So far, $200,000 has been allocated for the building for fiscal 2000 and the remaining $700,000 will come from the capital improvements budget for fiscal 2001, he said.

All items in the county budget are contingent on the approval of the Washington County Commissioners, he said.

When the patrol building was constructed, the plan was that if needed, expansion could be done by adding a second level, said Shoop. But the county now is undecided about whether building a second story would provide enough room.

Two sets of building designs are being commissioned: One calls for a second story and ground level expansion and another for a ground level expansion only, he said.

After a design is selected and contracts are awarded, construction should begin around October 2000, said Shoop.

He estimated that construction would take about eight months to a year depending on the weather.

The building's addition should meet the needs of the Sheriff's Department for 10 or 12 years, he said.

When the patrol division moved into the building it had 40 deputies and 11 civilian staff members. Now, 60 deputies and 14 civilian staffers work out of the building, Mades said in a report to the Washington County Commissioners.

"Even though we have 20 more deputies than in 1992, we still are using the same space for the deputies to write reports, hold training, conduct roll call, process prisoners etc.," Mades' report said.

The overcrowding could pose safety problems, the report said.

Arrests have increased by 61 percent since 1992 and suspects are still being processed in the same small area.

"It is not uncommon to see anywhere from two to eight prisoners at any given time on Friday and Saturday evening. Coupled with the number of deputies that must also be present in the processing area during this time period, it's a disaster waiting to happen," the report said.

"Luckily, we have had no escapes or incidents with injury in the patrol building resulting from the processing of prisoners, but this luck cannot last," Mades said in the report.

The report noted that once a prisoner is removed from a holding cell, he or she has "access to just about any part of the building he/she wants ... The prisoner can very easily break free and go out one of three exits to the exterior and gain his/her freedom."

In addition, the patrol library is being used not only for reference material but as an office for crime prevention deputies because the division has doubled in size - from three to six - since 1992.

"Four of the criminal investigators work out of a single office and have no privacy to conduct interviews, hold conferences or write reports," he said.

The patrol building was designed to have two interview rooms, but the lack of space has forced the department to use one of them to store computer equipment used to archive records.

Sixty deputies share the single remaining room to conduct interviews. It also is used as a holding facility for juvenile offenders since federal law requires minors be kept away from adult prisoners, Mades said.

"The bottom line is that no one thought the patrol division would expand as rapidly as it did. The proposed expansion should be significant enough to allow for continued growth of the patrol division so we can effectively provide law enforcement services to the citizens of Washington County," Mades said in the report.

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