Stevens Point Police Prep for Move to New Location
By Brandi Makuski
Stevens Point police have new digs.
Well, new for the department, at least.
Following decades of space problems and some long-awaited movement by the City Council, the department now has permission to expand its footprint. The Stevens Point Police Dept. has begun moving from cramped conditions in the basement of the Portage Co. Courthouse — also known as the County-City Building — and into the former location of Mid-State Technical College on Michigan Avenue.
Mid-State vacated the city-owned building in 2014 for its new location in the Downtown District. The 36,000-square-foot building has remained vacant since, even after Mayor Mike Wiza opted to place the building up for rent in 2016. The move garnered little interest from the business sector, but officials from SPPD say it’s an ideal location for their new headquarters.
“The city keeps growing to the east, so this is a more centralized spot for the department,” said Assistant Chief Mike Rottier. “It just makes more sense to be here than stuck in the basement on a one-way street.”
The SPPD will take possession of most of the building, save for its east corridor. The hallway and four classrooms there will be walled off from the department and remain vacant for use by either another city department, or for lease to another entity.
Moving in will be done in phases, Rottier said, with patrol units making the leap first, followed by the investigations bureau, and finally, the records department. Most officers should be relocated by the end of the year.
“Walking into it right now, it’s already better than where we’re at,” said Assistant Chief Tom Zenner. “Some of the space is already set up perfectly for what we need.”
When citizens visit the department to file complaints, currently their information is taken in a public hallway. It makes for some uncomfortable moments, Rottier said.
“Now, we’ll have a soft interview room with privacy,” he added, pointing to a once-classroom off the lobby.
Zenner added the new location will also be easier for the public to access, and considering the public service nature of police-work, that’s essential.
“When you’re trying to give directions, it’s crazy,” he said. “It’s between one-way streets and in between other government buildings, and it’s not really obvious when you get here. People come into the building all the time with no idea where we are, or they go across the street to the sheriff’s office looking for us. Now, you won’t be able to miss it.”
The new location provides several items the department doesn’t currently have: dedicated office space for visiting officers from Wis. State Patrol and the Dept. of Natural Resources; office space for the department’s chaplains, health officer and the police auxiliary; room for school liaison officers when school is not in session; and private areas for forensic and mental health officers.
The department will also have a specific room for shift briefings — something it also currently lacks.
“Plus, each room has an individual thermostat, which is nice,” Rottier said, referencing existing HVAC problems in the courthouse — which force air conditioners to run year-round in some rooms (particularly the department’s server room), while space heaters are needed in others because of the outdated systems in that building.
Security concerns at the department’s current location will also be addressed in the new space, Zenner said. Victims and suspects will no longer use the same entrance, and will no longer need to pass each other when being moved between rooms.
Officers have also identified a specific room for interviewing assault victims and minors, which will be designed with comfortable furniture and a soothing environment.
“That’s important when you’re dealing with a victim of a sensitive crime, or working with kids,” Zenner said.
Other new features of the building include separate bathroom facilities for officers — they currently use public bathrooms in the courthouse — and a better layout for evidence storage: the current evidence room has stalactites growing from the ceiling due to long-term water leakage.
Rottier said it’s important to remember the department is occupying the space “as is”, meaning very little renovation will take place for the first 18 months, until the city releases funding for additional construction.
“It’s a two-phase project,” he said. “The first phase is we move in, as is, and we’ve got a year-and-a-half to feel it out. In 2019, we get the money to build out offices, put a garage in front — kind of like the fire department where we’re right on the street.”