VENICE — The new Venice public safety building has virtually everything the old police headquarters lacked: space; a logical layout; upgraded facilities; higher security; technology that’s built-in instead of grafted on; more space.
And visibility, right along the main drag of East Venice Avenue, Venice Police Department Capt. Charlie Thorpe said.
“This is what this community needed,” he said.
So, where have all the improvements made the biggest difference in the way officers do their jobs?
Morale, according to Thorpe and Capt. Eric Hill.
Or as Thorpe put it, the “vibe.”
“People want to feel good about coming to work,” he said.
The old building was so deficient it had sort of become an example of the broken windows theory of policing, he said — its rundown condition didn’t encourage anyone to have pride in it.
That’s not the case with the new building.
The department moved in during September and everything right down to the locker rooms has stayed nice the last six months, he said.
A modern, first-class facility is essential to both recruitment and retention, they said.
“We need people to do this job,” Hill said. “There are a lot of agencies trying for the same people.”
But features that might be perceived as creature comforts are functional as well.
Take the new lockers, which have electrical outlets, airflow and boot cabinets.
In an emergency, it’s all hands on deck, and officers may have to be on duty for several days. Their lockers have the space for changes of clothes and can let them charge their phones while wet items dry.
There’s a gym and a large training room with pads on the floor and the walls. It can be divided by a temporary wall and is wired to become the command center in an emergency.
Power isn’t an issue — a generator can run the building for three days on a tank of fuel.
“We crammed a lot of function into this building,” Hill said.
That’s not to say there haven’t been significant operational improvements.
“We always found a way to get the job done,” he said. But, he said, the new building “is so much more efficient.”
Suspects can be taken from a patrol car directly into one of two “hard” interview rooms. They won’t cross paths with witnesses, which was a risk in the old building.
The armory is larger and has a workbench where officers can clean their weapons instead of doing it at home.
Evidence lockers have their own space; formerly, they were in the shift lieutenant’s small office. And they’re accessible from the front, for storage, and the rear, so the Criminalistics Unit can retrieve items without having to leave its workspace.
Forensics — the analysis of physical evidence — is the biggest area of growth in police work, Hill said, and the new facility greatly expands the space devoted to it.
Cheryl Prevatte, who heads the unit, said she “loves” every room that’s dedicated to the storage, testing and analysis of evidence — even the one in which items are returned to their owners.
The room is set up somewhat like a bank teller’s station so staff isn’t required to have direct physical contact with a person retrieving property.
There’s vastly more storage space, all of it climate controlled and monitored — even the stainless steel refrigerator and freezer — including separate locked rooms for cash, drugs and weapons, the department’s areas of greatest potential liability, Hill said.
Previously, they’d all been secured in a room that was basically a locked closet.
The drug room even has its own ventilation system, so the smell of confiscated marijuana no longer wafts through the general storage area.
“What a blessing not to have to smell this every single day,” Prevatte said.
There’s brand-new technology throughout her space as well, for the testing and preservation of evidence — and for sending digital images of it to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office for further analysis.
She no longer has to use fish tanks to conduct tests because she didn’t have the appropriate equipment.
It has brought the VPD in line with other law enforcement agencies, she said.
“It makes the agency look better — more professional,” she said.
And it all helps preserve agency certification — the gold standard for law enforcement. The agency lost it a number of years ago, and recovering and maintaining it has been a high priority for every chief since.
Prevatte said all the improvements make her feel as though she won the lottery. She has been with the department 21 years.
“I may stay another 20 years,” she said.