Updated July 7, 2022
A skeleton crew of just four Richland City Councilmembers –Terry Christensen, Sandra Kent, Theresa Richardson and Jhoanna Jones — attended a city council workshop on Tuesday that included a discussion of options for providing the police department with more space.
Some of the councilmembers toured the police station before the meeting. The Observer learned from City Manager Jon Amundson that on Tuesday night that Christensen, Kent, Richardson and Jones toured the police station in separate groups. Had the councilmembers toured the facility together, it would legally have been a public meeting that anyone could have participated in.
During the workshop meeting, Richland Police Chief Brigit Clary and Police Commander Daryl Judge described the crowded conditions at their twenty-year-old police headquarters and outlined future needs based on Richland’s projected population growth.
According to Clary, her department currently has 87 full-time employees. The city has budgeted 68 commissioned police officers, but six positions are open.
“We currently have 1.1 officers for every 1000 residents,” Judge told the council.
At about 2 percent yearly growth including about 15,000 additional residents at the Badger Mountain South development and 1,500 more residents in Horn Rapids, the police department will need 98 officers to keep the 1.1 ratio in 2027, Judge said.
“If we increase that to 1.3, which is where we’ve traditionally been for our ratio in years past, that takes us up to 112 sworn officers,” Judge estimated for 2027.
“Our numbers have been diminishing over the years…for instance, in 1990, we had a ratio of 1.4 officers for every 1000; in 2000, we had 1.32; in 2010. 1.21; and then in 2020, we had 1.02,” he explained.
Proposals for expansion
Richland Parks and Public Facilities Director Joe Schiessl described three options for doubling the space for the police department from around 20,000 square feet to about 40,000 square feet:
*Proposal A includes remodeling the existing building and adding a 20,000 square foot, two-story annex which would utilize a portion of the old city hall site.
*Proposal B has a two-story addition to the existing station and a one-story annex. The annex foundation could be built to allow additional floors to be added as needed.
*Option C would be a new police station on the former city hall site. With that option, Schiessl noted, the city would have to decide what to do with the current police building.
Schiessl showed the following slide to demonstrate the cost of each option:
“I would be concerned with developing something for five to ten years when we’re paying interest on 20 years. We’ve got to think about 20 years out,” Richardson said. “Is this going to take us where we want to be?”
Richardson also asked about the need for a police presence in places like Badger Mountain South. She agreed that the central city needed to have a police station but worried that it wasn’t the “highest and best use for the property,”
“We’re still going to have that razor wire that bothers me a little bit,” she said. “Those are the struggles that I’m having here.”
Christensen also mentioned the razor wire that protects police vehicles, joking that the police needed to get a “Ring Doorbell that tells you when someone is climbing over the fence.”
“To me, building a new police station on the old site over there. It’s just a no go that doesn’t fit the vision that we have, or what we’re trying to do with the downtown corridor,” Christensen said. “Regardless, this is something that’s not in the Capital Improvement Plan [CIP] right now,” he added.
Christensen said that the council was going to have to consider the police station needs when the CIP was considered.
When Schiessl added, “A wildcard that’s had almost zero analysis, but it’s kind of interesting is if we could find an empty building in town that could be remodeled in the downtown core….”
Before Schiessl could finish the sentence, Christensen interjected “Albertsons.”
The empty former Albertsons on Lee Street in central Richland has been empty for several years. According to Benton County property records the lot is three acres, the same size as the old city hall site. The building has 40,000 square feet, approximately the amount of space each of the three options provide.
Addressing Richardson’s concerns about “police presence” in other areas of Richland, Clary responded, “…the substations really are not a good model for police response because it is good for us to have our investigative units, our patrol units and proactiveness all in one spot.”
She explained that officers would continue to use fire stations as a location for report writing and then added, “…but we want them out on the street and mobile.”