WATERTOWN — The Police Commission, meeting on Wednesday, February 12, elected commission officers, discussed old business and reviewed a presentation from Deputy Chief Joshua Bernegger regarding a new police department facility.

The commission elected Richard Antonetti as chairman, David M. Jannetty as vice chairman and Anthony Coppola as secretary.

The commission discussed an engineering study needed to determine if a third stop sign is necessary at Porter Street and Echo Lake Road.

Mr. Antonetti said he and Director of Public Works Roy Cavanaugh discussed the study. According to Mr. Antonetti, Mr. Cavanaugh does not currently believe there are funds available for the study.

However, Mr. Cavanaugh said the public works department will perform a traffic report later on Porter Street and Echo Lake Road for the stop sign at no cost to the town.

In discussing the issue, many commission members felt the matter is an immediate need to lower the risk of any possible accidents. Commission member Richard Rossi said the matter has been pending for five months.

Members asked if there were any other funds available and asked the chairman to go back to Mr. Cavanaugh and ask for the study to be done as soon as possible.

Chief John Gavallas gave his monthly report for January, noting 1,284 calls for service, with 48 criminal arrests and two juvenile referrals. There were 308 motor vehicle stops and 75 tickets issued.

There were 14 misdemeanor summonses, including one for speeding; 61 infractions, including 13 for speeding and five for criminal activity; 106 written warnings, including 50 for speeding and two for distracted driving, and 16 parking tickets.

There were 39 crashes, including eight with injuries, and two hit-and-runs.

Items including calls for service, arrests and motor vehicles have increased from December. According to Chief Gavallas, although there is no definitive reason, it could be attributed to the holiday months or just a random trend of activity.

Deputy Chief Bernegger gave a presentation to the commission to show the need for a new police department facility.

Chairman Antonetti said that he, Deputy Chief Bernegger and Chief Gavallas went to see a new police facility in Bethel on February 12.

Mr. Antonetti said the station was something any town would be proud of. “It is bringing us into the 21st century,” he said. “I believe this type of station is a necessity.”

He went on to say he believes the town police department should have excellent working conditions and if someone were to be incarcerated, they should be in a holding situation that is humane.

The Bethel facility is an example of the facility that the Watertown Police Department needs.

Chief Gavallas said the current town facility is 40 years old and not adequate for the needs of the department.

Deputy Chief Bernegger said the current building is 11,000 square feet, has served a population of approximately 19,400 people. He added that the town has grown about five percent per year, and the department currently employs 40 sworn officers and 14 civilian staff.

Mr. Bernegger discussed issues with the current facility including the muster room, the booking area, the sally port garage, the conference room, the evidence room, the records room, locker rooms, the sergeant’s office, the carport area and the armory.

He reviewed other issues including training courses, flooring, access control, storage, patrol equipment, juvenile holding areas, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and possible replacement of the radio and telephone systems.

One of the main issues is the muster room. He said it is the only large room in the facility for gathering, however, it is also the space for officers to conduct reports, roll call, training, public interviews, community meetings, equipment storage, special functions and swearing-in.

A main problem is although the room is operational, there are sensitive documents not meant for the public eye.

“It is very difficult to use this building to invite the community into the police department,” he said. 

He said a modern police facility should have a place in the department that allows for partnership between the public and police officers.

Another issue is the current building does not have adequate space or parking for the department to host training programs, which is important because the state has scaled back its training functions for officers.

He said it does not cost the town to host courses, but sending officers to training courses costs approximately $750 each.

Due to the lack of space, there is no room for expansion or growth and the current conditions cause safety concerns.

The armory is mainly used for storage, which does not allow any room for armorers to work on guns so they are forced to use tables in the muster room.

Mr. Bernegger included approximate prices for some of the issues including $750 for training courses, $24,000 for tiled hallways, $60,000 to install electronic access controls, $175,000 to $250,000 for HVAC, and $1,000,000 to $1,500,000 for a radio system upgrade.

Although outdated, the radio system and telephone system could last another three to four years.

Mr. Bernegger said the space needs presentation was reviewed by the town council last October and they authorized the space needs assessment phase and site survey for the new facility. 

The funding for the first phase of pre-referendum work would determine the type of space the department requires as an agency projected 20 years in the future. 

The second and current phase is a site evaluation which would allow an architect to observe and decide what sites in town are most suitable for the facility, if for some reason they cannot rebuild a new facility on the current site.

Mr. Bernegger said the Bethel facility was created by the architect which the Watertown Police Department is using for their space needs assessment, Jacunski Humes Architects LLC.

The next two phases of the project would be for the architect to create a schematic design and a professional cost estimate.

The commission agreed the police department needs a new facility with updated equipment and controls. Specifically, the commission believes it is important to have a multi-use community room to allow interaction with the public.

The commission endorsed the proposal for a new police department building.

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