Wisconsin officers forced to use converted bathroom to conduct interviews

(MADISON, Wisc.) -- A converted bathroom serves as an interview room at the Madison Police South District station.

And officers still don't have enough space to interview and hold suspects at the small building at 835 W. Badger Road, South District Capt. Randy Gaber said.

The converted bathroom is a symbol for the cramped police station, which city leaders agree must be replaced.

The dispute is about when to do it.

Mayor Sue Bauman has proposed no money to replace the police station in her capital budget for 2001, but she projects doing so in 2004.

South Side Alds. Tim Bruer and Matt Sloan have proposed a budget amendment to spend $1.7 million to build a new station on city-owned property on Hughes Place next year.

The district needs a new facility, but the timing is up to policy makers, Gaber said.

''It would be a disservice to our officers to say this building is just fine. Everybody gets sick of coming to a dingy small building,'' he said. ''But I don't want the Police Department to be caught in the middle.''

Chief Richard Williams is also cautious, saying, ''Anybody who says it's too small and that we're paying too much rent, I would agree with that.''

Bruer, who says the city has been willing to spend for a convention center, hotel and other high-profile projects, doesn't mince words.

''It's outrageous,'' he said.

Asked if a new station is needed, Bauman said, ''Long term? Absolutely. Short term? I'm not convinced.''

The City Council will vote on the amendment and others to the capital and operating budgets on Tuesday.

The leased, 3,100-square-foot building was supposed to be a temporary headquarters for the city's first experiment in neighborhood policing on the troubled South Side in 1988, Gaber said.

Since then, the city has built a much bigger neighborhood station on the North Side and is building and even larger neighborhood station on the Far West Side. The comparatively small South Side precinct, which serves 45 personnel and is used by the Dane County Narcotics and Gang Task Force, forces close communication and a sense of camaraderie, Gaber said.

But there are many problems, he said.

In the tiny lobby area, the converted bathroom can be used to hold only one suspect, forcing officers to interview or hold others at detective or supervisor desks, or to take them Downtown, Gaber said.

Officers do their best in the situation, but it does present safety concerns, Williams said.

And unlike the other precincts, there's no space for neighborhood meetings, which is important on the South Side, Gaber said.

Farther inside, officers and staff must share a main room that hosts the shift room, reception area, copier, kitchenette and many file cabinets. It's so cramped that one end of a big conference table has been cut off so it can fit in the room. Elsewhere, the few separate offices are small, and five detectives work in a small room.

Downstairs, three detectives share a windowless room with another kitchenette, and another room serves as storage for property, radios, food, workout equipment and more.

The women's locker room has file cabinets but no bench, and the men's locker room is even more cramped.

A barrel for loading and unloading guns sits at the bottom of a stairwell, and unused file cabinets are stored on the landing of a stairwell.

Outside, the tiny parking lot has just 15 spaces, so the city must rent nearby space for officers' personal vehicles and visitors.

''It obviously is too small for our needs,'' Williams said.

(iSyndicate; Wisconsin State Journal; Nov. 12, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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