LAPD is Finally Rolling on Expansion of Facilities
By Andrew Blankstein, The Los Angeles Times
Detectives working from desks placed in shower stalls. Policewomen changing into uniform in a patrol car. Suspects interviewed on the roof because of a lack of interview rooms in the patrol station.
This was the sorry state of many Los Angeles police stations in the mid-1990s, a product of what one consultant called decades of neglect.
After a quarter-century, the LAPD is poised to expand with the January opening of its North Valley-area station — the first of six station houses scheduled to open over the next two decades.
Complete with state-of-the-art technology and large open spaces, the 54,000-square-foot, $29-million station house symbolizes a new generation of police facilities designed to be as accommodating to the community as they are to cops.
They are the first generation of new buildings designed to help implement community policing, which emphasizes a collaborative effort between officers and the neighborhood, identifies the roots of crime and searches for solutions.
"There's been lots of criticism of the Police Department in the past about how our facilities have been constructed," said Yvette Sanchez-Owens, commanding officer of the LAPD's facilities management division.
"Some people told us they looked like fortresses or jails."
To make LAPD buildings more inviting, the new designs include larger community rooms with kitchenettes that can accommodate everyone from members of the local police advisory board to homeowner groups, neighborhood councils and Scout troops.
There will be plenty of parking spots for police and the public, eliminating the traffic free-for-alls that typically accompany a shift change.
The concept of the station house as a town hall — or at least a good neighbor — fits the vision for community policing, LAPD Assistant Chief Sharon Papa said.
"We want people to recognize police facilities as part of their community," Papa said. "Normally, people associate them with something negative because most who are visiting stations have been a victim of a crime.
"The new designs are intended to bring people in for positive reasons."
As an example, Papa cited early-morning yoga classes attended by officers and residents at the Newton Station south of downtown.
Capt. Kirk Albanese, who will command the North Valley station, in the 12000 block of North Sepulveda Boulevard, is using similar thinking as he chooses who will work in the new building.
He said he wants to identify officers who have a knowledge of the area, have demonstrated good performance, and reflect the diversity of the neighborhoods they will be patrolling. And he's getting lots of inquiries.
In addition to parking, the new buildings will include significantly larger locker rooms for men and women, with extra space designed to accommodate an influx of officers of either gender. Each station will house a small gym complete with weights and treadmills.
Sanchez-Owens said the new facilities would be a big change from sites such as the Hollenbeck Division station, which is so squeezed for space that lockers line the corridors of the station house.
The station, which serves the Eastside and opened in 1964, was built to serve about 150 officers; now it is home to more than 400 sworn personnel.
Those conditions, which were pervasive throughout the Los Angeles Police Department, led then-Mayor Richard Riordan to commission a study by Kosmont and Associates detailing the agency's aging infrastructure and what would be needed if the city wanted to implement community-based policing.
The study concluded that two police stations should be built, the LAPD's Parker Center headquarters should be replaced, and three stations should be rebuilt: the Hollenbeck, Rampart and West Valley stations.
After the Kosmont review, city officials conducted their own follow-up study and determined that the best way to deliver service was to add six stations, bringing the total to 24.
In 1989, voters approved Proposition 2, a $178-million bond measure that allowed the department to replace its most dilapidated structures, including the Newton, 77th Street and North Hollywood stations.
Proposition Q, a $600-million measure, passed in 2002. Those funds will pay for four replacement stations, including West Valley, Hollenbeck, Rampart and Harbor.
The North Valley station will inaugurate the 19th LAPD division; it will be the first time the number of station houses has expanded since the Southeast station was added in 1978.
Locations of other planned stations, scheduled to open in the spring of 2008, include Vermont Avenue and 11th Street in the Mid-Wilshire area, and Canoga Avenue and Schoenborn Street in the northwest San Fernando Valley.
Sanchez-Owens said the decision to build in those areas was based on the number of calls seeking police assistance, as well as resident population and expected population growth.
The North Valley station, for example, will subdivide one of the highest-crime areas and most far-flung geographic areas — the Foothill and Devonshire divisions — where officers roam over more territory with a lot less backup than at many other big-city police departments.
As part of its 20-year master plan, the LAPD has identified other sites where stations should be added, including one in the Silver Lake area and two in South Angeles: the first near the Inglewood border and a second near the intersection of the Harbor Freeway and Florence Avenue.
But Sanchez-Owens said those stations, which would be built sometime in the next 20 years, would require additional bond funding.