There’s little doubt that the biggest issue that will face a proposal to construct a new police headquarters building in Lawrence will be its estimated $30 million price tag.
However, another factor to consider is what moving the police department to its own separate facility could cost the community in terms of cooperation among its various law enforcement entities. At a time when it might make sense to consider consolidating the functions of the Lawrence Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, removing the last police officers from the downtown Judicial and Law Enforcement Center would be a step in the opposite direction.
When the law enforcement center opened in late 1976 it was a one-stop law enforcement shop that included offices for the police and sheriff’s departments, Douglas County District Court, the district attorney and other related offices, as well as the Douglas County Jail. The idea at the time was to facilitate convenience and cooperation among the various functions of county law enforcement, from arrests to prosecutions.
As the county has grown, its space needs have grown. Although the courts, the sheriff and the DA’s office still are housed in the law enforcement center, the jail has been moved to the east edge of town, and a large portion of the police department has been shipped out to leased space near Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive.
Having the police department split between two locations is inconvenient, so the new chief is asking city commissioners to consider building a new police facility, possibly near the fire station at 19th and Iowa streets, to reunite the department. Before commissioners authorized a needs assessment for a new police facility last year, city officials asked the sheriff’s office and the Kansas University Public Safety Office if they would like to participate in the planning process. When both declined, city police officials proceeded on their own.
The city can’t force more collaboration if these agencies are satisfied with the status quo, but it seems shortsighted not to at least consider ways these departments can work together better and perhaps even share multiple facilities in the community. The city’s fire department and county’s ambulance service merged a number of years ago and occupy stations throughout the community. The city and county also might consider the example of Riley County, home to Kansas State University, which has successfully merged its county sheriff’s department and city police department into a single agency.
If part of the goal of a new police facility is to promote communication and efficiency within the department, why not take the rationale a step further and consider a combined law enforcement agency for the county?