Plan calls for 3rd police precinct

Published 8:28 pm Thursday, November 5, 2009

The leaders of Suffolk’s police and fire departments presented $45 million worth of building and equipment wishes to City Council on Thursday.

The preliminary five-year outline calls for a joint fire station and police precinct, with a regional training center, to be constructed on Nansemond Parkway by 2012. The new facility would help address a number of concerns within the public safety departments, Police Chief Thomas Bennett and Fire Chief Mark Outlaw said.

Both departments need to decrease their response times to high-priority calls, the leaders said. In the police department, responses to first-priority calls, such as a bank robbery in progress or a homicide, exceed seven minutes nearly a third of the time. The fire department’s response time averages eight minutes, Outlaw said. The industry standard is a maximum of five minutes for fire calls.

“Time is property,” Outlaw told the Council members.

The new building would allow for a new police precinct, Bennett said. Currently, the downtown precinct is responsible for about 60 percent of the department’s calls, which Bennett called “way out of whack.”

“We see the need for a third police station in the very near future,” Bennett said. He proposed the new precinct to cover the city between Holland and Chuckatuck, taking some area from both of the current precincts to create the new one. The new precinct would include North Main Street and the burgeoning Godwin Boulevard corridor.

The two halves of the joint facility would be connected by a joint regional training facility, which would provide space for specialized training of public safety personnel from throughout Hampton Roads. Currently, much of the training requires going out of the city, which also gives other departments the opportunity to scope out and recruit the best personnel from Suffolk to their city, Outlaw said.

The new joint facility would carry a price tag of about $9.9 million for the fire station, police station and regional training center. In addition, about $2 million would be needed in 2012 and 2013 for fire engines, ambulances and an aerial platform truck.

Also, another fire station and communications center is planned for Holland Road, possibly to be constructed by 2013. The building would cost roughly $5.7 million, but the biggest expense would be the communications equipment, Bennett said. The new equipment is sorely needed, because the current radios turned 21 years old this year, Bennett said.

“Nobody is producing parts for this radio system anymore,” Bennett said of the Motorola system. A cache of parts already produced is stored at Motorola headquarters, but officials there estimated the parts could last only two to three years. After that, equipment that breaks down cannot be repaired, Bennett said. Some federal grants also are tied to having up-to-date equipment, he added.

“It’s a critical issue,” Bennett said.

The total cost of new communications equipment would be about $11.9 million, Bennett said.

Other expenses in the plan included $4.5 million for a new fire station on Carolina Road, and $350,000 for an addition to the Lake Kilby fire station. Outlaw also requested about $175,000 for fire station security systems, and more than $10 million over five years for new fire engines, ambulances, aerial platform trucks and rescue trucks.

No action on the plan was taken by City Council Wednesday. After being reviewed by the capital improvements plan subcommittee, the plan will be reviewed by the planning commission, and then the City Council. City Council is expected to adopt an edited form of the document early next year. The first year of the plan then will be incorporated in the budget process.