Downtown police station; do the dollars make sense?
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Akram Musa sees a lot, that he'd just as soon not, as he drives down East 11th Street, delivering sandwiches and pizzas to UT-Chattanooga students and others who live in the Fort Wood and MLK neighborhoods.
"Downtown needs more police to protect it; because of the gang members, the homeless," he says. "A police station in this area will cut the crime down a lot."
Tuesday night, City Council approved spending $77,500 to hire an architect to design a remodeling plan for just such a station, in the old Farmers' Market- Onion Bottoms.
"It actually will be staffed all the time," says Richard Beeland, spokesman for the Mayor's office. "It'll be the headquarters for the bike patrol and the parking-meter attendants."
The facility is large enough to provide space for UTC's campus police force, should it so choose to move.
So far, neither Chattanooga's Police Chief nor his command staff have offered ideas on the design or a wish list for what the station might include. But some officers offer an earful.
"We're building a station that will require more cops off the street to man it, when we have fewer officers with less equipment," says Sgt. Craig Joel, of the Chattanooga Police Benevolent Association. "It doesn't make any sense."
Sgt. Joel maintains that police already have a major presence only a block away; the recently constructed parking lot to hold the cruisers of officers who've opted not to pay a mileage fee to drive them home.
"A year ago, we were shutting down precincts," Sgt. Joel says. "The precinct on West 40th Street was shut down when we had more people, more equipment, than we do now."
"Precincts aren't staffed at the level we're talking about," Beeland responds. "We also would have community meetings in there and encourage people to utilize that space."
Beeland says remodeling, converting, the space should cost less than a million dollars.
"Using an existing area the city already owns makes a lot more sense," Sgt. Joel says.
Beeland counters that the site at 11th & Baldwin is central to where growth and needs are greatest.
Neighbor Lee Pittman agrees, to a point. Pittman owns P&P Produce and Dixie Produce, which supply a number of restaurants and commercial food vendors across the Tennessee Valley.
"We have a safe community here, a lot safer than maybe some of the people want to think about," he says, adding that a downtown police station's greatest value may be in the peace of mind it could provide for those who are debating whether to become customers.
"Whatever exposure we can get would be greatly appreciated," he says.