U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand toured the city’s aging police station and came to the same conclusion police officials have held for a couple of decades.
“I do think we’re going to have to rebuild this facility,” she said.
The Democrat from Hudson was in the Spa City Thursday as the featured speaker at a luncheon sponsored by the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County, and then toured the city police and fire stations.
Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim invited Gillibrand to tour the two facilities while she was in town.
Mayor Scott Johnson and Anthony “Skip” Scirocco, commissioner of public works, also joined the tour, although Scirocco said he didn’t know about Gillibrand’s visit until the horde of media assembled on the bottom floor of City Hall.
Gillibrand, a handful of local officials, two of Gillibrand’s staffers and 12 reporters walked through the cramped station to see the outdated facility and recent improvements, including the new women’s bathroom and locker room that were installed after the state Human Rights Division made a preliminary discrimination ruling against the city for not having separate facilities for its female employees.
Police Chief Edward Moore noted that because the police can’t use locks on the lockup cells as recommended by the Commission of Correction, officers must stay in the lockup with someone they arrested until the perpetrator is arraigned.
“There’s situations now where arrests aren’t being made when they normally would be,” Moore said.
The locks were deemed unsafe according to today’s standards.
Assistant Chief Chris Cole said the city is calling more officers in on overtime on busy weekend nights so that there are enough patrolmen on the streets.
At the last City Council meeting, the council approved replacing the locks with ones that meet today’s standards, Johnson said. Doing so is expected to cost about $8,000.
Cole said the department also needs to replace the ceiling in the male lockup, where crumbling metal mesh could be pushed through by an inmate seeking escape.
A new combined police station and court building was estimated to cost $17 million, and $8 million was put in the capital budget for the project.
Now, the city is waiting on design plans and a cost projection for a police building without the courts, which Kim said should be done by June.
Gillibrand noted that she tried to help the city get federal money last year to build a new station. “This year we’re going after money specifically for new equipment,” she said, adding that the government is more likely to give that.
The city has applied for 2009 appropriations totaling $244,000 for mobile response team equipment and training — a “SWAT” vehicle, several M-16 patrol rifles, ballistic helmets, shields and body vests that Cole said would be useful in a “active shooter” situation, such as a school gunman or a shooter in a public place.
“They’re very effective at long range,” Cole said of the rifles.
Cole said that although state troopers have a mobile response team, it might take an hour or more for those officers to arrive, since they’re pulled from throughout the state.
Gillibrand, who is running for re-election to the 20th Congressional District, said the city has a chance at getting the money next year.
The city currently has four patrol rifles and all the supervising officers have been trained to use them, Cole said.
Johnson said he welcomed Gillibrand’s visit and assistance, but stopped short of saying the city needs a new building. “Clearly something needs to be done with the station the way it is,” he said.
Kim stood by his long-held position for a new public safety facility. “We’re going to build that building. We’re going to do it.”
It’s unclear whether Kim has enough votes on City Council to do so, since the Republican majority and even Democrat John Franck are waiting to see the bottom line.
In other news, the city now hopes to get $4.2 million in revenue this year from video lottery terminals, up from $3.8 million last year. The new amount is the city’s expected share calculated based on what the VLTs have earned.
“People are still gambling, even though the economy is not good,” said Eileen Finneran, deputy of public safety.
City officials traveled to Albany on Thursday to lobby for VLT money for host municipalities to remain in the state’s budget this year. They met with staff of several state leaders, including the governor’s budget office, Finneran said.