By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Nov. 8, 2018) The Ocean Pines Police headquarters was an architectural afterthought and it shows, according to Police Chief David Massey.
The Ocean Pines Administration Building was constructed in the 1980s, when police were moved there from quarters shared with the fire department.
Space was made for six officers “and it wasn’t designed by a criminal justice consultant,” Massey said.
“Whoever designed it had no idea about how police are supposed to work. It was just a bunch of offices put together,” he said. “There was actually a darkroom and one cell that didn’t even have a toilet in it. And the work area, with officers coming in the back door, there’s no security.”
About five years ago, Massey said, a prisoner was brought in after stealing from more than a dozen area vehicles. He was arrested, processed and cuffed, but managed to pull the lock out the particleboard wall and ran out of the back door. The 17-year-old suspect easily evaded the 60-year-old police officer pursuing him.
“He escaped out into the woods and we had a huge manhunt with state police and the county sheriff – and we never did find him,” Massey said. “He turned himself in to the Wicomico County Sheriff … several days later.”
Today, 20 people, 16 of whom are officers, work in the cramped space.
“There’s no flow and there’s no security, because it wasn’t designed that way,” Massey said. “The bottom line is we have 1,700 square feet. We should have somewhere around 5,000.
“I’ve been trying to get them to upgrade what we have since 2006,” he continued. “It’s frustrating that it’s a need – it’s not a luxury. And it’s not a problem until it becomes a problem – and when it becomes a problem, it’s high liability, because someone’s been hurt or someone’s been killed.”
Not to mention, there are morale issues.
“Just about every police facility in this county has been upgraded – after this place was put here,” Massey said. “We’re trying to attract people here to stay and you certainly don’t want to come into work in a ramshackle facility.”
Two years ago, a previous board of directors and general manager planned to move some of the administrative functions, including finance, to the second floor of the country club. Plans were to then reconfigure the administration building to expand the police quarters
“The design was to cannibalize existing space,” Massey said. “You would be removing some of [the general manager’s] offices and putting them in a remote facility. For functionality and efficiency, the GM needs to have those people close to him.”
“Why would you move finance people out of the admin building?” General Manager John Bailey said. “I don’t know how well thought out that was.”
On the administrative side, Bailey said space was adequate, but it could be better used. For example, he said a meeting space formerly used for board meetings has been used to house the IT department for more than a year
“We’ve got a lot of square footage that’s just open space,” he said. “I think we can tighten that up without making people feel like they’re in a box.”
Bailey said current plans are to hire a general architectural and engineering consultant.
“Not that we have to use them [for everything], but I could pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, how much would it cost us to get drawings for this?’ And that company could tell us that,” Bailey said.
When that’s accomplished, Bailey likely would ask for an estimate to expand the current police quarters into the side parking lot of the administration building.
“That adds additional space and you can reconfigure existing space to be more efficient,” Massey said.
Bailey said about $50,000 remains in the current fiscal-year budget for engineering work. Ideally, plans would be drawn up during that period, which ends next May, and construction would occur during fiscal 2020. He estimated the total cost to be around $600,000 – although he admitted that could be low.
“The cells, for instance, have to come up to national standards,” Massey said. “You have to come up to criminal justice standards and that’s going to require a criminal justice consultant to do that.”
“The intent is to get that process going … so that we have a plan that we can get drawings for and go out to bid and get an estimate for what it would actually cost to do the work,” Bailey said. “There’s a lot of conversations that still have to take place, including talking to the county.”
Governments generally are able to build a new police station when the old one has become obsolete, Bailey said. Running a homeowner’s association, however, means there’s more of a balancing act because nearly every expense has an impact on assessment dollars.
“We do recognize that we’ve been here for 50 years and we have some infrastructure that is old,” he said. “Having everything be nice and new and shiny would be great, but I don’t think that’s where we are as a community. And so, there’s a balance between what can we do besides just putting lipstick on a pig, and the duct tape and the glue model.
“We’ve got to do something more than that. Not that you need a Cadillac, but not that you want the Yugo either,” Bailey continued. “Part of the frustration for everybody is you have so many things to fix and it can be overwhelming if you take it all in one, big gulp.”