LGPD: Need doesn’t change
Little has changed in the two weeks since the La Grande City Council opted out of purchasing the old Eagles Lodge Building on Nov. 26.
Some officials had hoped a purchase could lead to renovations and a new home for the La Grande Police Department, which is currently housed with the Union County Sheriff’s Office on K Avenue.
La Grande Police Chief Brian Harvey says now that issues with the department’s current location are out in the public, it’s a waiting game to see what will happen next.
“We don’t have any specific plans,” Harvey said. “We have not been tasked specifically by the council to look for a building.”
Until the department staff is directed by the city council to look at plans, the police are making do in the 1977 Union County Law Enforcement Building.
But, “The need is not going to go away,” Harvey said.
Rather, Harvey says, the city is deferring a cost that will rise “dramatically” over time, primarily because it increases the likelihood that something will need to be built from the ground up.
A brief visit to the department’s current location shows how tight space is. Harvey said that requires some creativity in finding out how to best distribute people in the building. Ceiling tiles throughout the building are missing. Harvey says this is because of the leaking roof, which has resulted in mold in some places.
“You have a building built in 1977 that wasn’t designed for this use,” Harvey said.
The 24/7 wear on the building makes the building seem much older than it is. The constant hard use on it, Harvey says, makes the building more equivalent to a 100-year-old building.
“You can only do so much with a building. You can only stretch it so far,” the chief said.
Harvey said when he joined the LGPD in 2009 as chief, he was told by officials there was an interest in relocating the department downtown, but that problems with the current facility were put on the back burner as other budget issues arose.
“It’s kind of been a low-level issue,” Harvey said.
Now that the problems have been brought to light, though, the chief is hoping the public will see the department’s need.
“Anywhere the department relocates is going to be a benefit to the area,” Harvey said, adding that the issues aren’t limited to LGPD. “The other thing we have to look at seriously is we have a jail problem. We are matrixing criminals routinely. At a certain point the community has to determine whether they are OK with that.”
Matrixing refers to the system by which law enforcement determine who can be released from the Union County Correctional Facility. The decision is based on a form that considers the offender’s record, type of crime, community involvement and more.
Harvey doesn’t see any solutions for his department or the jail in the near future. He has said at city meetings addressing the problems that they will make do regardless of any changes that take place.
Pointing to a large conference room in the department’s current facility Friday afternoon, Harvey says he is grateful they have access to that space for meetings and training.
“It fits most of our needs,” he said. “We appreciate that.”
City Manager Robert Strope said the city council would likely take a serious look at what’s next for the LGPD.
“It certainly could be something that’s addressed at the (annual council) retreat,” he said. “I do plan to have some discussions with the county commissioners about the current facility.”
Strope said he would like to address some of the maintenance issues with county officials, but noted that the need for a new facility isn’t going anywhere.
“The biggest challenge that we have is the ability to fund an improvement like that,” he said. “And to do so without compromising existing programs.”