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Proposal for Larger Police Station Stalls Over Lack of Funds : Oxnard: Force seeks relief from crowded conditions but taxpayers are in no mood to pay. Officials study possibly relocating to former Press-Courier building.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Crowded into a building far too small for its force, the Oxnard Police Department is looking to spread out.

“There aren’t enough locker rooms, the workout area is in a separate building and there’s no juvenile holding, which means officers have to baby-sit juveniles that come in here,” said James Willis, the department’s business manager. “That can tie up an officer for a long time.”

A committee of city and police officials is studying a number of proposals, including transforming the former Oxnard Press-Courier building into a state-of-the-art law enforcement facility.

But all of the solutions--expanding the present 25,000-square-foot building or moving to a larger space--would cost money that the city simply does not have, officials say.

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Oxnard Finance Director Sandra Schmidt said that there is no room in the city’s general fund for such capital expenses, and that most of the redevelopment money has already been earmarked for other programs.

“At one point, the citizens did things like pass general obligation bonds” for projects like new police stations, she said. “But in this climate, who’s to say?”

Department officials have been awaiting direction from the federal government, which promised to make money available for local improvements for Southern California civic projects later this year.

But Willis said he has not yet received details about the application process, or whether any funds will be designated for Oxnard.

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Meanwhile, the committee has reviewed several proposals, including use of the former newspaper site on West 9th Street.

Analysts working for the committee concluded this month that it would cost about $10 million to remodel the building and open a police station there.

Consultant Martin Le Van said the 50,000-square-foot Press-Courier building would also need to be expanded by about 6,000 square feet. But that is not the only impediment.

“What’s really pushing the cost up is the lack of parking space. We’ll need 300 spaces before it’s done,” he said.

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Police Chief Harold Hurtt called the Press-Courier building an “ideal location” for the department’s new office.

“It would give us a tremendous city government presence in that part of the city and bracket the downtown area,” he said.

The group has not limited its options to the abandoned newspaper building, however. Willis said officials are also considering expanding storefronts, which would allow them to station more officers outside the downtown office.

If they do pursue a new city government building, Grace Hoffman, committee member and city budget officer, said the panel may consider incorporating more than police services into it.

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“Ideally, we’d probably want one building that’s user-friendly to the customer and also allows employees to interact with other departments,” she said. “But I’m not sure that’s something the city could afford.”

Meanwhile, police officers juggle increasing caseloads in workstations that have not grown in nearly two decades.

Victims often sit idly in a cramped room, waiting for an officer to take down their stories. Detectives frequently delay witness interviews because there is nowhere for them to talk.

Many Oxnard police officers are forced to “baby-sit” young offenders until someone can transport them to a juvenile facility. Records clerks toil amid cluttered desks and file cabinets.

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“We have detectives stacked on top of each other right now,” Willis said.

Willis is not the only officer in the city of more than 150,000 residents feeling unduly crowded.

“We are functioning,” Cmdr. Jamie Skeeters said. “But it is uncomfortable.”

The city has 164 sworn officers and more than 100 other people working in the building, which opened in 1977.

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“You keep making do with what you have,” Hurtt said. “We understand the financial condition of the city.”


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