Council: Downtown best site for stationPublished 11:01am Wednesday, September 7, 2011
The short list for the new Fergus Falls police station site got one site shorter on Tuesday, when the city council reached a consensus to move forward on one of the downtown sites, eliminating the old U Motors building from consideration. The council should have a final site selected by early October.
The consensus was reached at a work session prior to the city council meeting, where the council members discussed their Aug. 22 visit to the recently-built Alexandria police station, as well as some new statistics Police Chief Kile Bergren presented about police calls in the city.
Bergren showed the council a map of calls recorded over a week in early August. Of those calls, 70 percent occurred within one mile of the proposed police station site across from city hall and 95 percent of calls occur within 2 miles.
Only 3 percent occurred within one mile of the U Motors building and 18 percent were within the one-mile radius, Bergren said.
“Most of the calls we do receive on any given day are within that one mile of downtown,” said Bergren, who also cited several statistics from the year to date.
Without giving names of specific businesses (he said most businesses of similar type and kind receive similar numbers of calls), Bergren outlined how the perception that police deal more with the west side of town often doesn’t square with the reality of where most of their calls come from.
Among his statistics: 12 calls have come from a big box store on the west side of town, while two older homes that have been converted into apartments on South Cascade Street have produced 58; three of the city’s biggest hotels have gotten 32 calls while the three downtown high rises have had 174 calls. The number of calls to Lake Region Hospital to date (130) dwarfs the number of calls to bars, he added.
In fact, said Bergren, police have been to Lake Region 32 times just to deal with patients assaulting staff, disturbances or out of control patients, plus another 13 times for transports of combative patients or warrant pickups. In the meantime, he said, they’ve only been called to six bar fights this year.
A big issue for aldermen was accessibility. The Alexandria station was constructed to provide privacy for crime victims, something that’s often a little harder to achieve in the tiny lobby of the current police station site on Friberg Avenue. The members saw the customization of privacy controls as a big plus for building a new station, and Alderman JoEllen Thacker said Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels explained how more people feel comfortable coming in because of the station’s relatively central location.
“Policing is changing, and privacy is so much better with the layout of that building,” Alderman Scott Rachels added, saying that while privacy controls could also probably be instituted at U Motors, he wasn’t sure how much it would cost.
Alderman Jay Cichosz did not go to the Alexandria station, but he was pleased with Kile’s presentation, which also included staff size comparisons to cities of similar size (out of the five other compared cities, Fergus Falls’ 20 officers was higher only than Alexandria, where Wyffels told the council he could use as many as four more officers).
“That’s what I wanted to hear from you,” Cichosz told Bergren, adding that he believes the numbers show hard evidence the council can use to back up its decisions.
After Alderman Jim Fish said he felt very strongly that downtown was the way to go, other aldermen concurred, and no one spoke out against the idea of moving forward with either the new building option or the old U.S. Bank option. Bergren and City Administrator Mark Sievert will lay out the pros and cons of each option at a work session before the council’s Sept. 19 meeting, and Pat Connelly posed the idea of making a final decision on which location was best on Oct. 3. The idea was agreed upon at the session.
“I don’t think anyone sitting here needs a whole lot more information,” he said.