Chief eases police move concerns

Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts

Citizens will lose convenience when the Pendleton Police Department moves to Airport Hill, but they could save millions of dollars and see better police response times.

The Pendleton City Council recently approved buying the former Pendleton Academies complex at 622 Airport Road for $1 million, $400,000 less than its appraised value and a third of what Pendleton Academies paid to build the site.

The property includes two main office buildings, plus some storage buildings and a barn.

Pendleton Police would move into the building closest to Airport Road. The city aims to lease the other office to another party, possibly the Oregon State Police. The police department is likely to move its headquarters to airport hill by the end of this year, said city officials.

Not all Pendleton residents are happy with the plan, and Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts recently addressed concerns and reasons prompting the move.

The current police station at 109 S.W. Court Ave. doesn't meet the department's needs in terms of space, accessability and parking, Roberts said, and the city will have to pay to upgrade the building to meet new legislative mandates dealing with recording custodial interviews.

"The building can't do it," Roberts said, and he hasn't found another building in the downtown core that can.

The Pendleton Academies site also will allow the department to store all of its vehicles and equipment in one place.

"As it stands right now, if we had a critical incident we got some equipment here (at the downtown office), we got some in a storage building at the airport, we got some down at OSP," he said.

Scrambling to get all that together, he said, means longer response times.

The new location also will allow police go from one end of town to another via the interstate rather than having to drive through town, and more visual police presence on Westgate will help businesses there.

"The reality of it all is, I don't think anybody is going to see a change in response, I don't think anybody is going to see a change in service. What they're going to see a change in is convenience," the police chief said.

To help with that, the department plans to have an an office in the downtown area.

The Pendleton Academies complex also has furniture, security cameras, computer servers, file cabinets and other fixtures included in the price. And though the possible police building is smaller than the existing downtown station - just less than 8,000 square feet - it presents a much better fit for the department, Roberts said.

The site will require some renovation to fit its new purpose, likely costing about $300,000, City Manager Larry Lehman said. City reserves would pay those costs, which the city would recoup after selling its Court Avenue building. The rest of the purchase cost will be borrowed, possibly through an existing U.S. Department of Agriculture loan.

But if the state police locates to the new site, what the agency will pay for a lease will essentially cover the debt payment on the building, Roberts said. There also is the added bonus of keeping the OSP crime lab in Pendleton.

Lt. Greg Sherman heads up the OSP office in Pendleton. He explained budget cuts and legislative mandates to be more efficient have prompted OSP to consider how to better allocate resources. OSP in Pendleton and in Ontario each have a crime lab, he said, and there has been discussion for a few years about locating a single regional lab at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande.

Roberts doesn't want that to happen.

"For us it's extremely detrimental because you have crime techs and criminalists in these labs that can come out and help process scenes and process your evidence," he said.

Sherman said he'd like the local OSP office to move, but couldn't say for sure whether the department is committed to it.

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