Police Station Story

By John Deming, Atlantic News Staff Writer

Atlantic News, Friday, January 7, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]
Hampton Police Chief William Wrenn in the lobby of the new Police Station.

HAMPTON | When the musty, cramped police station that had been used until late 2004 was built in 1963, it was supposed to be a temporary structure, according to Hampton Police Chief Bill Wrenn.

Temporary, it seems, meant 41 years.

"There's mold," Wrenn says. "People were getting sinus infections."

The difference is such a colossal improvement over the old facility, that "upgrade" would be an understatement. The new facility on Ashworth Avenue towers over the old one, which at first glance, seems like it can fit in the new building's lobby.

"People would see the old one and probably think, 'What a crappy building, this must be a crappy police department,'" comments Wrenn.

Like any department, they held roll call every morning — except they had to do it in the break room. The new building's break room has several tables, a sink and a refrigerator — and is about a quarter of the size of the new squad room, which is designated for roll call and has several computers set up for officers to fill out reports.

This is one of innumerable improvements.

"You could fit six of the old building into the new one," Wrenn says.

The sparkling new cell block facility is also ripe with efficiency. Both the juvenile and adult cell blocks are designed to keep prisoners apart — and officers safe when conducting interviews.

Among the many features are external flushes for the toilets — meaning a prisoner cannot flush the toilet in a cell.

"It's a very slim possibility," Wrenn says, "but just in case someone tried to flush drugs after hiding them in a body cavity."

So, they though of everything.

"We gave all the ideas to architects," says Wrenn. "We had numerous meetings with them going over the flow of the building."

But the new police station is not only an improvement over the old facility — it is such a modern facility that it rivals almost any station out there.

"There are a lot of things in this building you won't find anywhere else," Wrenn says. "We tried to think of everything. There isn't much we can't do."

Entering the lobby of the old facility, a person wound up in a cramped little hallway with dirty brick walls and one chair in the corner.

But if you get through the front doors of the new building — which requires security clearance — you're in a wide open room with a high ceiling, two desks, benches and marble floor that holds a mirror shine.

And connected to the lobby is an interview room in which police can talk with anyone who comes through the door while maintaining the security of the facility, Wrenn says.

Once you pass through the lobby — provided you have an electronic ID card — there is a set of stairs, and the building is divided into two levels. Among the functions in the upper level are the administrative offices, the training room and the squad room. The lower level contains the cell block, the locker rooms and laboratories.

For training, officers used to have employ the use of a high school classroom or the selectmen's meeting room. The new facility has a training room that looks like it leapt off the silver screen.

"It's much nicer not having to take space from the high school," Wrenn says.

Wiring in the building has all the complexity of a central nervous system. For example, forget the two-way mirror — a new conference room has closed circuit television allowing detectives to watch interviews as they are conducted, and communicate to the officer giving the interview with the use of microphones and ear pieces.

It used to be that officers had to use staff members' offices to conduct interviews, says Wrenn.

The conference room will also serve to welcome members of all law enforcement agencies for meetings, should the need arise.

The department's detectives will also be a lot happier. Where all detectives had to share a tiny office in the old building, the new facility has sectioned off work stations, with each detective given a personal desk.

The three patrol lieutenants also had to crowd around one tiny desk in one tiny windowless office that bears a resemblance to the new facility's cell block. Now, in a room with a view, each lieutenant has his own desk.

Other surprises in the seemingly endless trail of bells and whistles in the facility include a "soft cell" — a room where its apparently impossible for an unruly prisoner to harm himself or others; an automatic finger printing system that leaves old fashioned ink archaic and sloppy; multiple two-sided evidence lockers, including a refrigerated locker for blood and bodily fluid evidence; a fitness center, meaning the department no longer has to pay for officers' gym memberships; and a lab with a fuming chamber that looks to rival anything on television's "CSI."

Lastly, there is the control room — with multiple screens and radios lining the room, and everything from desks that raise electronically (should the dispatcher feel the need to stand) to a phone and radio beside the toilet (should something come up in the unfortunate moment when nature calls).

Wrenn has spent the bulk of his 30 years in department waiting for working towards such a facility. Failed attempts were made in both 1980 and 1990, Wrenn said, to move out of the incredibly inadequate facility.

Because of the new facility, Wrenn's department — still clad in its distinctive green, which matches much of the upholstery in the new building — finally has a shot at national accreditation, he said.

"You have to reach a certain performance level," he says. "And it was impossible to do that in the old facility."

Wrenn, virtually the face of the green-clad department, will also get a spacious new office.

"We're gonna get in this building and we're gonna say 'how did we ever operate over there?'" he comments.

Other officers wandering in and about the facility just before it opened, with smiles they couldn't suppress, seemed as happy as, well, kids in a donut shop.

"The smell is even terrific, isn't it?" one officer stated before turning to Wrenn. "This is a credit to your administration, Sir."