The subject of a new public safety building to replace the Tooele City Police Department’s old quarters next to 7-11 on Main Street was a dominant theme during a Town Hall meeting at Tooele City Hall on Feb. 28.
And it was again at last week’s Tooele City Council meeting.
During the Feb. 28 Town Hall meeting, Tooele City Mayor Debbie Winn and the city council gave a PowerPoint presentation that provided details on the city’s budget and a list of capital improvements and projects the city hopes to pursue someday.
One of those projects is a new 30,000-square-foot public safety building for the police department, which Winn described as a major need and would cost about $7 million to construct.
At last Wednesday’s 2018-19 fiscal year budget planning meeting held by the city council, Tooele City Police Chief Ron Kirby told the council the police department building at 323 N. Main “has provided us with wonderful service and has been there for us, but needs to be honorably released.” He noted the building served as an auto parts store for 20 years before it became the city’s police department 30 years ago.
But the rest of his presentation provided more details, other than age, as to why a new public safety building is needed. Chief Kirby said if he wanted to hire more officers to augment the current police force, there isn’t more office or parking space at the current department building to accommodate them.
And according to Kirby, more police officers are needed to better serve a growing community.
“…We currently have 1.02 officers per 1,000 residents, or field three to four officers at any given time,” he said. “The short answer is we need more officers. We are an extremely busy police department, as busy as any department I know of.”
Which indicates Tooele City’s men and women in blue are overloaded with calls for service. Combine that with being in an old building, and struggling with a known 56-percent turnover rate for police officers — because of higher pay available elsewhere — it sounds like everyone needs to pay closer attention to the police department’s challenges.
One of those challenges is erecting a new public safety building to replace the police department’s current 50-year-old facility. But given the city’s high turnover rate of police officers, which likely presents its own set of negative side effects, the need to offer more competitive pay to keep officers here appears to be a bigger priority.
It’s good to see the city’s new mayor and the city council openly discuss the budget preparation process and the possibility of a new public safety building. Indeed, it’s time to let go of the old police department building and erect a new one. But how City Hall secures the money to pay for such a project, and also offer higher pay to keep officers here, won’t be a painless task.
The mayor and council are urged to conduct that effort with a high degree of public involvement, while recognizing that compromising public safety in a growing community can only be stretched so far before unwanted consequences emerge.