Lawrence city leaders Tuesday talked about approaching other Douglas County public safety agencies about their space needs as they discussed potential for a new law enforcement facility several years down the road.
The discussion came amid a City Commission study session about the Lawrence Police Department’s budget, as Chief Tarik Khatib has said the department needs more officers and would like to avoid being split between two facilities downtown and in west Lawrence.
“I think the police department needs a 21st-century facility,” City Manager David Corliss said. “They're not in one at either of their locations now.”
Currently, the department is largely split between its patrol division downtown in the same building as Douglas County District Court, and the Douglas County Sheriff’s operations division and its investigations and most administration at the Investigations and Training Center, 4820 Bob Billings Parkway, in an a building originally designed as a laboratory.
Commissioners largely said they would be wary of putting up money for major maintenance work in the west Lawrence building and instead talked about a five- to seven-year plan for a new law enforcement facility.
Corliss mentioned a similar process about helping to build the new Lawrence Douglas County Fire and Medical station near the intersection of 19th and Iowa streets, but he said there were no specific plans yet for a new police facility.
City commissioners asked staff members to approach the sheriff’s office and Kansas University Public Safety Office specifically to gauge interest in a joint law enforcement building over the next couple months. City commissioners also asked for much more specific information about the current police facilities.
The facilities questions was one major part of the police budget discussion, but no decisions were made during Tuesday’s study session. Khatib also said he believed the department needed to add 17 patrol positions to handle its current work load and work to reduce crime.
“We’ve got the immediate needs now, and I’d like to try to get a forward movement on some things.” Khatib said. “Obviously we've got the budget issues to deal with as well. That's a choice you guys are going to have to make.”
Corliss said among adding positions citywide, one of the greatest needs is among patrol officers.
As part of the commissioner’s 2012 budget, Khatib has requested $1.2 million from the commission to add 10 patrol officers, a detective, three sergeants and some equipment. It would amount to a 1.4-mill increase to the city’s property tax rate, or $32 per year more annually for the owner of a $200,000 home.
The chief also said Lawrence’s crime rate is higher than some comparable communities and that a recent survey of 28 comparable cities across the nation show Lawrence officers are handing a high volume of calls per officer.
Mayor Aron Cromwell said the department has also received high marks from the community in city surveys, which also likely means the department has high expectations to live up to.
“I believe we are in a safe community, but there are things that we should be doing to ensure that safety and increase that safety for the future,” Cromwell said. “That's what we're here to talk about.”