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Police make their case for new station

A new downtown police station would improve the department's ability to investigate crimes and to take on gang activity, Medford police Chief Tim George told the City Council Thursday.

George received approval from the council to continue studying a proposal to build a $12 million, 35,000-square-foot police station downtown.

But council members said police officials needed to gather more evidence to prove to voters that a new facility would enhance crime prevention before any consideration would be given to putting a bond measure on the ballot.

George said such tasks as investigations, collecting witness statements and interviewing families of gang members are difficult in the existing police station on the bottom floor of City Hall.

"It's very difficult to operate out of this facility," he said.

If a bond for a new police station and parking were approved, George said, the owner of a house with an assessed value of $207,000 would pay about $35 a year, or $2.93 a month.

"That works out to be a really nice cup of coffee at Mellelo's," George said.

He said the lack of privacy at the existing police station makes it difficult to interview informants about criminal investigations, or to talk to family members who might be willing to disclose information about gang activity.

Violent criminals are escorted past Police Department employees and witnesses because the first floor of City Hall wasn't designed for police activities, he said.

"I toss and turn every time we have a case like that here," George said.

During the investigation of a fatal shooting of a fugitive last week by federal officers, George said, an insufficient number of interview rooms forced police to use a local mechanic's shop.

Police training is sometimes conducted in the council chambers or other buildings in the downtown, he said.

George said discussions with other police departments in the state have supported his contention that better facilities improve law enforcement.

Councilman John Michaels said he would be more supportive of building a large police facility rather than building one that would meet the needs of Medford only for an estimated 25 years. "That seems rather short," he said.

Michaels and Councilman Dick Gordon both suggested the Police Department consider adding two stories onto the Lausmann Annex adjacent to City Hall for the police station.

Other city-owned land identified as possible sites for a police station are on 10th Street between Holly and Ivy streets, at the corner of 10th and South Oakdale Avenue, next to the Evergreen parking garage on Eighth Street and between City Hall and the Lausmann Annex. Privately owned buildings and land in the downtown area also are being looked at.

Councilman Chris Corcoran said he would like to see more testimonials from other communities to support the idea that better facilities translate into better law enforcement.

A survey of local residents released in November showed skepticism about paying for new city facilities in the current economy. Campbell DeLong Resources Inc. of Portland will conduct more focus groups to gauge public reaction to requests from police, fire and the city's Parks and Recreation Department for new facilities.

Residents indicated they want to see a strong connection between the building of a new police station and a reduction in crime.

"Voters want to see proof," Corcoran said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email dmann@mailtribune.com.