If you’re looking for the Homer Police, you’ll have to try a few blocks down from their decades-long location on Heath Street near Homer High School.
Last Thursday, members of the Homer Police Department walked away from a building converted from a vehicle repair shop in 1978 that was known to be prone to periodic flooding, and into a brand new station at 625 Grubstake Avenue built by Cornerstone General Contractors and Stantec, an engineering consultant firm.
Pursuing a new police station had long been a priority for the Homer City Council, and in 2018 they came to consensus about the site location on the city-owned plot on Grubstake Avenue. Homer residents approved the proposal for the new cop shop in a June 2018 special election, with 64% of voters in favor.
The station cost about $7.5 million to build, and was paid for by a combination of funds the city raised for the project and a $5 million municipal bond. To pay back the bond, voters also approved raising the Homer sales tax rate from 4.5% to 4.85%. The majority of that tax increase (.30%) was set to sunset in December of the year the city raised enough funds to pay off the bond.
The remainder of the sales tax increase, 0.05%, remains in place to cover upkeep and maintenance.
Construction workers broke ground in May 2019, and Homer Police Chief Mark Robl said members of the department officially moved in on Thursday, Sept. 24.
The new station includes administrative space for officers, the prisoner cell block, a sally port for transferring detainees from patrol cars into the intake area, evidence storage, evidence processing, weapons and ammunition storage, a workout room, a dispatch center for taking calls, and space to be used for training and emergency response organization. The building is ADA compliant and has an elevator, as well as an outdoor storage space for seized vehicles.
One-percent of the budget for building the new station went to art. Rohleder Borges Architecture of Seattle, Washington created the blue sculpture of flying cranes titled “Together, Ascend” that sits at the main entrance to the building. Local artists Austin Parkhill and David Pettibone were contracted to create the mural of flying sandhill cranes on the side of the station, and another local artist, Don Henry, built a metal sculpture of a moose that sits in the main lobby of the station. He used parts of seized firearms and knives, as well as a few old handcuff sets that had been “damaged by people that didn’t want them on,” according to Robl.
Robl explained that after the statute of limitations runs out on a case that involved seized items, they fall into the police department’s possession to do with as they wish. That’s how the sculpture was able to be made with previously seized weapons.
The new station includes several improvements over the situation and layout at the old one, some of which Robl advocated for when the city council was finalizing the proposal and design for the new building. The sally port, for example, was a big ask. It’s a type of garage attached to the station where officers can transition people they arrest or bring in from the vehicle to the intake area of the jail. Previously, this had to be done in an open parking lot area, which Robl said invited more opportunity for some people to try to break away from officers and escape.
Another upgrade is in evidence storage and processing. At the old station, the police department used a shipping container off site to store some of its evidence because there simply wasn’t enough room. There’s not only more space to store evidence in the new station, but also expanded capacity to process it locally before items are sent to the state laboratory.
The new evidence processing lab is much larger than the old one, Robl said.
“We’re going to be able to have more tools in it,” he said. “Hopefully better preparation of things that are going to the lab, and we’ll be able to do a more thorough analysis of things, looking for trace evidence before we ship it. Sometimes delicate trace evidence can be damaged during shipping, so it’s better for us if we can capture it before we send it.”
There’s also a garage now specifically for evidence processing of vehicles. Previously, that process was done outside of the police station or in one of the Public Works garages. Neither of those situations were ideal for careful evidence processing, Robl said.
In the new jail, there are six cells, an increase over the four cells that were in the old jail. Additionally, one of the cells is designed specifically for someone experiencing mental illness, and another two are designed for holding minors or women. Those cells are on the other side of a door from the cells that will hold men, which puts them out of sight and sound from male prisoners. That’s important because it brings the department into compliance with federal requirements.
At the old jail, the cells did not actually meet those federal requirements and there was no place to hold minors or women that was separated from sight or sound of male adults being held in the cell block.
All cells except for the one designated for those with mental illnesses are set up with two bunks.
“We’re a community jail under the state of Alaska’s community jail program, and our maximum hold time here is 10 days,” Robl said.
The jail has a shower for inmates, and the new station comes with larger locker rooms for staff. The new interview room is on the jail side of the building, which means prisoners will not have to be brought into the administrative side where officers work to be interviewed. At the old station, that’s what happened, Robl said.
“It’s a much safer flow for us,” he said.
The city has not yet made a final decision on what the old police station building on Heath Street will be used for. There has been discussion on the city council level about using it for storage and as extra space for the Homer Volunteer Fire Department.
Robl said the upgrade of the new station has been a long time coming.
“It’s really nice to get in here,” he said of the building. “I’m sure we’ll be several weeks getting things straightened up, but I think this facility is designed and built to handle the needs of the community for decades to come.”
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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