Port police HQ a safety hazard, commissioner, chiefs say

Port police HQ a safety hazard, commissioner, chiefs say
A closet in the Port Washington Police District's headquarters, which contains live, unmarked wires. (Photo by Rose Weldon)

Port Washington Police District’s headquarters require immediate changes for safety reasons for personnel and the public, according to Police Commissioner Thomas Rice.

On a tour of the building given to members of the press on Dec. 2, Rice and two police chiefs discussed the headquarters’ issues at length.

Located at 500 Port Washington Blvd., the headquarters occupies a former schoolhouse that it moved into in 1959. With a growing population in the 1980s, the building saw some additions, Rice says, but not with the intended effects.

“They added this disaster of a layout plan on to the building,” Rice said.

The plan included a basement that saw a maze of fire-hazard hallways and placed personnel bathrooms close to the holding area for defendants, with no public bathrooms.

Upstairs, personnel have to walk single file through cramped rooms and offices, with electrical wires visible inside closets or in ceilings. Utilities don’t usually work either, Rice says.

“The electrical is shot, the waste line is broken, and our gas line broke two weeks ago,” Rice said. “The electrical up in the ceiling, when you push the tile open, it starts sparking because there are wires that aren’t connected. It’s cold, the heat is on and that’s wasting power and electricity.”

Assistant Chief Kevin McCarroll pointed out several instances where employees had to tape cardboard to the sides of ceiling vents that couldn’t be controlled, that the front walk’s wheelchair ramp was not Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant, and that the public parking area in front of the headquarters could only hold ten cars, with only one handicapped space.

Additionally, district records are scattered throughout the building, McCarroll said.

Some are in a multi-purpose room on the first floor, others are in the basement, and still others are in closets without drainage or shelves to protect from flooding.

Closets also store much of the district’s online servers and necessary electrical layouts, and most of the wires are unmarked. Live wires are also present in company locker rooms.

Stairs in the building are a particular problem.

Chief of Police Robert Del Muro said that an employee had to retire after falling down a narrow staircase leading to the basement, and Rice said that Commissioner Angela Mullins “broke a bone” while walking down a flight.

“Picture a police officer coming in with a drunk or somebody on drugs and escorting them down those steps,” Rice said.  “Not only is the perpetrator in jeopardy of going down the steps, but one of my officers is in danger of going down the steps, liable of falling and getting hurt, and I can’t have that.”

Rice, who was elected to his position in 2017, chairs a committee made up of people who work in the station house each day, including McCarroll and Del Muro.

“There’s no other committee like this,” Rice said. “Everybody wants to bring their experience to this, or they wouldn’t want to be here.”

The committee sent out a request for proposal earlier in the year, and went through applications from 10 architects, before agreeing on the Melville-based H2M Architects and Engineers, which focuses on public safety buildings.

As of Monday, Dec. 2, the district had not given the firm any money, according to Rice, but had retained Port-based contract lawyer Daniel Donatelli and sent Rice and fellow commissioner Dave Franklin to a research course in Florida.

“I took a course down in Florida with [Franklin] on how to build a public safety building conservatively,” Rice said. “We’re doing our due diligence here. I’m being as fiscally sound as possible, but the building is going to cost money and I’m not afraid to say it.”

Rice acknowledged next week’s police commissioner election between Franklin and challenger Frank Scobbo, but said that the issue of the building was “not a political” one.

“This is a safety issue,” Rice said. “I’m going to be as conservative I can, but this is a safety issue. I worry about my personnel in this building.”

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