LAURINBURG — Though he refrained from opining on the Laurinburg City Council’s City Hall situation, Laurinburg Police Chief Darwin Williams presented his case for additional space to Mayor Matthew Block.
Williams and Assistant Chief Cliff Sessoms walked through the department with Block, City Manager Charles Nichols, and City Council member Dee Hammond on Friday morning to point out areas where its physical facilities could stand to be improved.
“I would say we have space needs in personnel and evidence and files. We’ve grown since I came aboard in ‘94,” said Williams. “We’ve been juggling things around over here; we just don’t complain because our job is to get out in the community and fight crime.”
The city council is currently exploring the feasibility of a new municipal building to house the police department and city hall, based in part on a 2013 space needs study indicating thee need for 22,000 square feet to house various city departments.
“There’s a need for something to be done, with safety, security, space and all that tied in,” Nichols said. “If it’s not now, it’s going to be in five years or 10 years. The chief’s not lobbying for a brand spanking new building; I haven’t heard that from myself or any of the staff. It’s just knowing from everybody’s day to day operations.”
Between the current municipal building, which was dedicated in 1958, and the W. Charles Barrett administration building next door, the city has 15,000 square feet available.
Issues in the police department highlighted on Friday varied from the electrical — with several adaptations in place to avoid blown fuses and circuit breakers that trip when multiple appliances are connected — to a shortage of space to allow for the convenient separation of juvenile and adult offenders.
With a 45-member police department, the four-man gang unit is housed in a single small office and the canine officer is relegated to a miniature desk in the corner of the conference room.
Williams also pointed out that evidence, which in some cases must be kept indefinitely, is stored offsite and in several locations throughout the department including detectives’ offices.
“We have no choice. We’ve got to keep it up here,” said Williams. “Just like with the evidence from the crime scene … when the innocence projects come up, they want to review all pertinent evidence in the case.”
The police department cannot be kept completely secure as the open door that connects it with the city tax and finance departments cannot be locked in accordance with fire code. Restroom facilities in the police department are available to other city employees as well as the public, also posing a security risk.
“They have gone through light and water and we never knew they were there,” said Sessoms. “We have found people wandering the halls.”
Block, who when campaigning was outspoken in opposing the city hall proposal, questioned whether or not the issues raised justify the expense of a new facility.
“With the state of the city and its finances, is it critically necessary or can we make do?” he said.
“These are all very valid issues, but it’s not like the police department’s doubling in size with people falling all over each other. Nothing’s really changed in the last five or 10 years to say this building is absolutely inadequate for our needs.”
Last month, the city council authorized staff to begin negotiating a contract with Edifice, Inc. of Charlotte so that council can consider the actual costs involved with building a new city hall.
“We still don’t even know if we can finance this through the Local Government Commission, we don’t know how much it’s going to cost,” Hammond said. “We don’t know if we can borrow the money. There’s still a lot of things to look at there, but we’ve got to make the decision if we want to go that far with it.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.