The revised cost of Durham’s new police/emergency communications headquarters is now pegged at $71 million. For months, it was $81 million.
The savings of $10 million tells us two things: first, the city is listening to concerns about the sticker shock of the new East Main Street complex. And second, we can surely save even more money.
This first chunk of savings turned up by finding room for a few Police Department units in other buildings. Now, let’s take another major step.
I’ve previously reported that San Antonio, a city of 1.4 million people – five times more than ours – built a new police and fire department headquarters about three years ago for about $88 million in 2015 dollars.
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In 2014, according to federal uniform crime reports, San Antonio had 103 murders. Durham had 21. San Antonio had 4,747 aggravated assaults that year. Durham had less than a quarter of that number.
So $71 million for our new digs still looks like way too much. Vocal parts of this community are now energized and engaged. They’ve protested in the streets.
Few can disagree: more savings can find good use. One other vital need is right in the Police Department. More patrol officers.
Put less prestige in the building. Put more crime-fighters on our streets.
The same day we learned violent crime rate in Durham rose 18 percent last year, Interim Police Chief Larry Smith said something else. The department is losing officers, and that situation is getting worse.
DPD is apparently on pace now to lose about 60 officers in one year’s time, while it takes a year, as well, to train just 17 new recruits.
“We’re always running in operational vacancies,” he said.
A short-term solution: Cut an additional $20 million from the cost of the new headquarters and then hire a passel of new police officers. Get the law enforcers in the training pipelines so we have 40 more officers in a year.
Based on an job advertisement, Durham recruits appear to make roughly $35,000 to $50,000 a year. So, 40 new hires at $43,000 would cost about $1.7 million in salaries. With benefits, let’s estimate $2.3 million.
Now, add maybe $200,000 to train the sudden influx. DPD might also need to get some new patrol cars and other officer equipment. Let’s add $500,000 there.
In total, an estimated “extra” $3 million to have 40 new officers. Now, let's throw in $500,000 for the new body camera program.
The numbers could be off a bit, but you get the picture.
Subtract $3.5 million from the $20 million saved in having another reconfigured headquarters cost, and that leaves $16.5 million for city government to use, perhaps, in cutting-edge efforts to help disadvantaged youth and their parents work better together on kids staying in school and succeeding, on an intensified part-time jobs program, and on a pilot mentorship program with, you guessed it, police officers.
Wouldn’t it be great if the new police chief helped create lasting friendships between officers and teens? New familiarities, new respect, new trust.
We hear it could be May or later until we have that new police chief in place.
Meanwhile, as I write, in the last six weeks or so Durham’s had four drive-by shootings, one of them fatal, and another murder outside an apartment parking lot. The victim there was 23-year old Symoud Syheed Lewis.
The drive-by victims were an 18-month old boy, a 15-year-old high school student who was killed, a 72-year old woman, and a 79-year old man.
Drive-bys have no age range. No real aim.
Obviously, we need more officers on the streets. Obviously, we can spend less than $71 million on a new headquarters. $50 million would do us just fine.
And finally, we need a new chief in place before the predictable violence of summer. The shooters won’t wait.