Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Safety is worth the cost for sheriff’s, attorney’s offices

12/11/2013

Does Franklin County need more space and better organization for its sheriff’s department offices, as well as for the county attorney’s office? For many, it’s not really a question of need, but whether we can afford it.

Franklin County commissioners are considering moving the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and its 31 employees, as well as the Franklin County Attorney’s Office and its nine workers, from the current site at 305 S. Main St., to the vacant portion of the former Neosho County Community College campus. The proposed move would develop a Franklin County Law Enforcement Center at 226 S. Beech St. The location already is home to the Franklin County Juvenile Detention facility. Evidence of the need for improved efficiency and space is as close as the sheriff’s office’s evidence room, which isn’t a room at all — rather it’s four rooms in four locations. Quality control of evidence is essential to prosecuting cases and gaining convictions, plus it brings the office’s standards into “best practices” within the law enforcement criteria.

Does Franklin County need more space and better organization for its sheriff’s department offices, as well as for the county attorney’s office? For many, it’s not really a question of need, but whether we can afford it.

Franklin County commissioners are considering moving the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and its 31 employees, as well as the Franklin County Attorney’s Office and its nine workers, from the current site at 305 S. Main St., to the vacant portion of the former Neosho County Community College campus. The proposed move would develop a Franklin County Law Enforcement Center at 226 S. Beech St. The location already is home to the Franklin County Juvenile Detention facility. Evidence of the need for improved efficiency and space is as close as the sheriff’s office’s evidence room, which isn’t a room at all — rather it’s four rooms in four locations. Quality control of evidence is essential to prosecuting cases and gaining convictions, plus it brings the office’s standards into “best practices” within the law enforcement criteria.

Similarly, the county attorney’s office currently is located on two floors in a choppy and inefficient manner that frequently co-mingles victims along with those using court services — not the best of circumstances. The current organizational structure makes it difficult to collaborate on cases and divides the legal brainpower rather than consolidating it. Additional caseloads put additional stresses on the criminal justice system, which can be remediated with the proposed renovation.

The county’s potential move is part of a plan laid out two years ago when Franklin County acquired the vacant college site to house its juvenile detention facility. Though the plan has taken longer than expected to come to fruition, the timeline will enable the county to afford the $2.1 million renovation without increasing taxes because the bonds would go on the tax rolls coincidentally at the same time as other bonds — from a 2005 jail bond — expire in 2017. The renovation costs largely — one-third of the total anyway — are to pay for a new roof and HVAC system at the new site. These items need to be replaced regardless of whether the offices move, so the expenses are inevitable. Repairs are needed to preserve the county’s investment in the structure. The property already is owned by taxpayers, making it an economical re-use of property.

Freeing up space at the existing locations will result in a more accessible and user-friendly environment. Today, members of the public are hard-pressed to find close parking places when trying to enter the current sheriff’s office building. Once parked, they then must take an elevator up to the third floor before ever making contact with someone to assist with their concerns. Moving the offices to Beech Street not only frees up more parking downtown, but it also — from a logistics point of view — will improve response times for officers because of the better access to K-68.

The county attorney’s office, despite having a metal detector outside its entrance in the court services building, puts staff and the public alike in vulnerable situations with not the best of people to mix outside the courtrooms. A 10-year plan includes re-purposing of the space to better accommodate hamstrung court services, dispatch and jail operations. As one example, the jury room also is the break room for court services staff. Additional space for those serving time for low-level/misdemeanor offenses can provide some important separation from other inmates.

Public safety is at the heart of the county’s three primary tenets of responsibility to the public. Continuing to strengthen its infrastructure, albeit a little bit at a time as the county can afford it, makes it a safer place for everyone. The plan, as prepared by Treanor Architects, with the wants and needs of each of the concerned departments, sticks to the basics without constructing a Taj Mahal — just as taxpayers expect it to be done.

The public will have an opportunity to protest or support the project following the legal notice publication, which is expected to be published later this month in The Herald.

The real question: Can we afford inaction?

 

— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher

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