Developing Public Safety Needs and Trends Influence Design of New Garfield Police Headquarters
March 1, 2018

By DMR Staff

Early December 2017 marked the official start of construction of the Garfield Police Headquarters in Garfield, NJ, a new facility that will replace the formerly undersized and inadequate facility the department of nearly 70 currently operates from.

The beginning of construction is an exciting milestone, as it represents the culmination of a design process that overcame numerous challenges and worked through a variety of needs, requirements and trends in order to design a modern, safe and efficient building.

Garfield is among several municipalities to retain DMR, a design firm with a niche in public safety design, to address building issues with their police departments. In many cases, these buildings were constructed 40 or 50 years ago, and while their communities, populations and even police forces grew, the physical police department structure remained the same. Perhaps this sounds familiar? How did these clients know it was time to reevaluate their building program? Some of the most common issues, trends and requirements we see include:

Security Mandates: The New Jersey Department of Corrections regulates the standards for police department design. There are many ways in which we see that current police departments are failing to meet these regulations, but most commonly these items include barred doors, inadequate cell sizes, incorrect light fixtures and furniture, and the lack of technology to control the locking of doors.

Aesthetic Design: Today's communities want transparency with their governmental agencies, and the police department is no exception. A friendlier 'face' on a police department changes a community's perception of the law enforcement professionals within it. These buildings should be designed as beautiful civic buildings with the same charm and openness as libraries, village halls, or fire departments. It makes a difference for our law enforcement officers, and for those whom they protect. It can be a traumatic experience for someone who comes to the police to make a report, only to see jail cells in plain view. The existing Garfield Police Headquarters was built in 1970, and like many of the same time, had an imposing, sterile façade with punched window openings.

Layout: We commonly see that the layout and circulation of the building is inadequate, and many facilities lack a sally port, often times meaning that prisoners are transported through the common areas of the building, sometimes passing visitors and residents, another common failure of Department of Corrections guidelines. Similarly, juveniles and adults must be separated by both sight and sound. In Garfield, the original police department housed the cells on the top floor, requiring police to take prisoners from the parking lot in the back of the building, through the main building, into a processing room, through a series of steps and into the cells. A new 1,200 square foot sally port will allow for the transfer of prisoners to cells that are housed on the same floor without entering the main building.

Size: In the case of Garfield, they needed more than double the amount of space they had, and this could only be achieved through a new construction project. Previously, they operated in less than 8,000 square feet, and their new facility is nearly 20,000 square feet. During the design phase, we explored options to renovate, but we quickly determined that doing so would mean that another area, that was already too small, would lose more space. The many masonry interior walls also made remodeling more of a challenge, and the building's infrastructure (HVAC, lighting, data) was decades old and not up to current codes. A renovation and expansion would have simply been too expensive to bring to functional use.

Are you next?
Of the hundreds of New Jersey municipalities, countless are operating in facilities that are not properly serving their staff or communities, however, a construction program to address these deficiencies will be different in each case. Working with an architect can help you determine where your deficiencies are, what type of building program will provide for the most effective programming, and which approach is the most fiscally conservative. Even with municipalities who may know what they need, an architect can bring your plan to life, address aesthetic needs, and help you control the cost.

(This article originally appeared in the February edition of the monthly newsletter of the New Jersey Association of Counties).