Wilton police department is 'busted' at the seams
Wilton Police Chief Michael Lombardo is frank when he speaks about the state of his department’s headquarters.
“The building has not been expanded since it was built in 1974,” he said. “The IT officer’s desk is in the shooting range. That just about tells the whole story.”
During its Monday, Aug. 19 meeting, the Board of Selectmen approved the Police Commission’s request of $10,000 to provide the town with an assessment of police headquarters.
The special needs assessment will be conducted by Jacunski Humes Architects, of Berlin, Conn. It is an architecture firm with considerable experience designing and assessing public safety buildings, Chief Lombardo said. Brian Humes, the lead assessor for this project, will spend three months inspecting the police department beginning “within a week or two,” the chief said.
This assessment is “all about the building,” Chief Lombardo said. “It will assess the department’s needs. It won’t look at what we want, but will assess what we need as a department to function properly. It will decide on our needs, and do nothing else.”
Rather than simply using renovations completed in nearby towns for guidance, this process will determine what aspects of this building need to be improved.
“Mr. Humes will meet with detectives, myself, and other officers to figure out what each of their needs are,” he said, “and to determine what they need to operate as a 21st Century police department should.”
During an interview on Tuesday, the police chief said this assessment was a necessary step in modernizing the town’s aging police building. The assessment will also create a body of information the town can refer to for years to come.
“The needs of the department will be projected out from today to 30 years in the future,” the chief said. “This isn’t something that will only be useful if the town decided to change the building right now. It’s important for long-term planning.”
Changes in the demographics of the department have greatly affected the effectiveness of the police headquarters.
“When this building was built, the department had 25 officers, including one chief, an executive officer, sergeants, two detectives, and one or two civilians,” Chief Lombardo said. Now, Wilton has “44 officers and six civilians, including three lieutenants, an increased number of sergeants, four detectives, and a school resource officer.”
Citing those statistics, Chief Lombardo said it is plain to see that Wilton has simply “outgrown” its current building.
“The forensic computer lab doubles as an interview room. Our evidence and property holding areas are completely inadequate,” he said. “Though they are functional, they are not proper. We are required to hold all evidence until ordered by a court to return that evidence, or destroy it. There is no adequate space to hold this evidence.”
In fact, the chief said, the large outdoor container behind the police station is where the department is forced to hold the majority of its evidence.
The emergency operation command room, in the station’s basement, currently has a total of five uses.
“The EOC functions as a roll call room and a teaching classroom,” the chief said. “The department’s armory and shooting range are directly off that room,” he said. Patrol officer, and sergeant’s desks are also in the EOC.
Though the police department has had female officers since the early 1980s, the building was never designed to accommodate both genders. Today, Chief Lombardo said, the women’s locker room is inadequate and nearly unusable.
“The female locker room is very tight. It’s not functional,” he said. “If we hire more female officers, what are we going to do?”
Chief Lombardo said he hears very similar complaints from his patrol officers and sergeants.
“They always tell me ‘there’s not enough space. There’s no proper place to do reports and other paperwork. There’s no proper evidence holding area, especially if the evidence officer is not there.’”
An aged building
The wear and tear on the building, the chief said, is also becoming an issue.
“The building itself is 40 years old, but it’s not just 40. It’s never closed down in those 40 years. It’s being used 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The usage and wear and tear on this building is much more than 40 years’ worth.”
Since 2002, the town has realized the police station could use a serious renovation. In 1974, police departments had very different needs associated with their headquarters. Those differing needs, the chief said, are reflected in the way the department has tried to integrate upgraded technology into the building. Apart from the IT officer’s desk being relegated to the shooting range, the servers he is responsible for are on the department’s top floor. This results in a regular need for the IT officer to constantly climb to the second floor to address problems.
“The servers are in our old photo lab,” the chief said, but after digital photo development became the norm, that space was converted into an officer’s office. When the new servers came in, the department was forced to move that officer out into a shared office.
“We had to move a lot of things around” for those servers. “It was a very difficult process. The building wasn’t structured or built for any of those things.”
The current department, the chief said, does not fit important state requirements related to prisoner holding cells, suspect interview rooms, and other department areas.
“The state has increased mandates [for police stations] over the last few years,” he said. “For instance, interviews must be both video and audio recorded. We have to keep juvenile, male and female prisoners separate from one another. There are many things that have changed recently.”
Calls for service
Over the past 10 years, the chief has seen overall town “calls for service” rise. He also said the town has seen a noticeable increase in the amount of violent crime in town.
While other towns in the area have a population that shrinks during working hours, Wilton’s population actually increases 15%. More than 32,000 cars pass the intersection of Routes 33 and 7 on a daily basis, the chief said.
While the crime rate in town is very low, Chief Lombardo said a police station renovation would not have the intent to lower that rate. It would instead give the town the ability to keep its crime rate down with a more modern approach to crime prevention.
“The building is outdated, and unable to follow state mandates,” he said. “Crime rate doesn’t only define a police department’s function. Most of our action is responding to calls for general services, not crime. We respond to over 1,200 medical calls a year, and the defibrillators our officers now carry have saved 16 lives.”