Shelburne chief wants new headquarters

  • Memorial Hall on Bridge Street in Shelburne Falls is also the home of the Shelburne Police. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, April 17, 2018

SHELBURNE — The Shelburne Police Department functions out of 2½ rooms in Memorial Hall, but it’s quickly outgrowing that space, police officers told residents recently.

Annual Town Meeting voters may see an article asking them to authorize the Selectboard to negotiate for a new site for the police headquarters.

In the downtown building that serves both as Town Hall and community space for movies, concerts and town meetings, police can’t guarantee privacy for victims coming in to file complaints nor for suspects being placed under arrest.

Recently, a drunk man who was being booked began loudly yelling, disturbing a crowd of moviegoers upstairs.

Besides limited parking in front of Town Hall, there is no sally port, or secured space away from the public, where an officer can park the cruiser, put his gun in a firearms locker, and bring the suspect into the station for safe fingerprinting and booking.

A 3-by-9-foot converted closet serves as the department’s property room, and it’s overflowing. Arrest records that are required to be kept “forever” are in the Memorial Hall basement; there is police storage in the Cowell Gym and one Highway Department bay for cruisers and snow tires in the Little Mohawk Road garage.

“Our stuff is scattered throughout town,” said Police Chief Gregory Bardwell. “It’s not an ideal space.”

Police held the meeting to explain why policing doesn’t work well in a cramped, public space where the main entrance is shared with the public, and where the walls are thin for anyone giving testimony or being questioned.

Bardwell said the International Association of Chiefs of Police recommends a 3,000-square-foot facility for a department of Shelburne’s size. The department now occupies a space that is less than one-fourth the recommended size.

A building at the recommended size would have enough space for an interview room that provides privacy and can be equipped with video surveillance, offices and a training room that could also be used by community groups.

To build a new police headquarters might cost $1.4 million to $1.75 million. But police are looking at whether buildings now up for sale on the Mohawk Trail could be converted into a police station for less money. They currently include the former Notion to Quilt building and the former Pioneer Nutritional building. The town is hoping that an existing space could be converted into a police station for between $500,000 to $800,000.

Former Shelburne Chief Steve Walker and State Police Maj. Michael Habel spoke in support of a new station.

“This isn’t a new process,” Walker said. “What they’re dealing with, it’s hard. I don’t think we’ve got many options from the buildings we own.”