New facilities will house improved police department

If things go according to plan, in a little more than a year Grand Junction’s finest will no longer have to work in a facility that’s not nearly as nice as the jail to which they send the city’s criminals. That’s not much of an exaggeration. And all of us who foot the bills for the city of Grand Junction will no longer have to be embarrassed about the sorry excuse of a building that we call police headquarters.

Construction began last week on a new $35 million public safety facility. It’s been a long time coming and the history of the project is fraught with political missteps, grand visions, an angry electorate and, at least peripherally, a police department that was spinning out of control.

The story has been an object lesson in just what this community will and will not pay for, and why it will or will not do it.

We’ll begin the story at the end and say that, today, city and police officials should be proud of where they are, and congratulated for getting there. But it’s been a bumpy road.

I’ve always said that, beginning back in 2008, when a politically tone deaf City Council and administration put a grandiose plan before the voters for a project costing nearly $100 million, all they really needed to do was get every voter to tour the current police station. Let voters see for themselves the squalid conditions in which the GJPD toiled. They’d surely vote “Yes” for a new building. But that’s not practical, and voters said “No” to the gold-plated proposal put before them.

Personally, I wish it had passed. The quality of public buildings and public facilities say a great deal about the inner life of a community. Denver, for example, is gaining a reputation as a city with great architecture. One needs to look no further than the new convention center, the library and the art museum in downtown Denver to see that it is a vibrant community — and one that puts a premium on the urban landscape.

I’ve been on the planet, and in western Colorado, long enough to know Daniel Libeskind is not likely to design a building in Mesa County — or any other big-name architect. That’s not to belittle our own architectural community, one that is not without considerable talent. It’s just that big, public projects of the kind that architects’ reputations are built upon don’t come along very often here. Witness the failed attempts to build a new library, never mind the public safety initiative of 2008.

It’s all understandable. This is a conservative community, of that there’s no doubt. But there are some underlying demographics that point to another reason. We are and have always been a community where the per-capita household income is less than both the state and national averages. We simply can’t afford those kinds of expenditures. They are out of sync with the mores of the community. Voters in their collective wisdom know that. When presented with plans for new libraries or state-of-the-art public safety facilities, they say “No.”

Back to the building that is now under construction in the 500 block between Ute and Pitkin avenues. City Manager Laurie Kadrich got a lot of the grief for the failed initiative in 2008, including some from yours truly. It wasn’t because it wasn’t a good plan. It probably was. It was because she misread the politics of it.

If she got the grief then, she deserves the kudos now. She gets the credit, not just for the buildings that are under construction, but also for realizing, somewhere along the way, that the problems in the Grand Junction Police Department were not limited to poor facilities. It was a department without enough boundaries, and, while it certainly had, and has, a strong core of dedicated officers, it nonetheless had more than its share of internal problems and a couple of rogue cops.

She quietly and effectively took care of that problem. Hiring John Camper, a no-nonsense, plain-talker, as the police chief may have been the best move she’s made since she became city manager. He cleaned up the department.

So next year he’ll move into a new building. And the police officers and staff he moves into it will be worthy of their new digs.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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