New police station badly needed, won’t get less expensive

I started my first day of work as a police officer for Homer on Dec. 26, 1984. We had seven police officers then, mine was a new position added to the force. We also had one animal control officer, one person working in the jail and four dispatchers.

The years have flown by for me and I’ve seen many changes here and in our community. The police department has grown to a staff of 12 police officers, seven dispatchers, three full-time jail officers and one part-time jailer. Homer has gained paved streets, lots of new buildings, both government oriented and private businesses, and a heck of a lot more people than we had more than 30 years ago. I like most of the changes, not all, but I still love living here and being a part of it all. I have been honored to serve as your police chief since 1999.

When I was hired our building was a few years old but still shiny and new, truly something for the city to be proud of. It worked well for us then and has lived a long life.

As we’ve grown we’ve moved walls around and added connex’s out back. We put gear lockers in meeting spaces, store evidence where it shouldn’t be and don’t have the room or proper space to utilize the many new technologies available to us for crime fighting that didn’t exist back then.

Many of work spaces are cramped and inefficient. Professional police agencies train constantly to maintain perishable work skills, something very difficult for us to do within our walls and impossible for some disciplines in which we must maintain proficiency in.

Our jail design does not meet current standards for holding females or juveniles and has serious safety problems for us due to a poor floor plan layout and design.

Our air-handling system wasn’t designed properly for a collocated jail exposing our employees to airborne pathogens anytime a sick prisoner is inside, national statistics tell us this is the case with more than 50 percent of all in-custodies.

Our building was designed and built before computers were in the workplace and communications became so technologically advanced. Cable runs for both are haphazard and exposed throughout our building. Critical electronics operate in overheated, unconditioned environments.

Homer has grown tremendously since 1984, our building has not changed. We don’t have the physical space on our current lot to expand and can’t renovate our building nearly enough to address all of its deficiencies.

I’m not a commercial building expert or an economist. I can’t predict the future. I’m told it will never cost less to renovate the HERC building and add on to it. The cost of construction tends to increase over time; Alaska’s currently low bond interest rates are predicted to rise, lending credibility to the claim.

I truly believe we can complete the project as currently designed while staying within the $12-million figure authorized by council earlier this year. I’m certain the new building will allow your police department to function professionally, efficiently and more completely than ever before for the next 40 years or more.

I toured Kodiak’s new police station this summer, built at a cost of more than $30-million within the last five years. I like our current design better than theirs at a whole lot less money. The sales tax plan seems like a reasonable way to pay for it, gathering in those tourist dollars when they’re here. Thanks for your consideration.

Please vote “Yes” on Proposition 1.

Mark Robl has been Homer’s police chief since 1999.