City leaders zero in on future
scope of police HQ
October 3, 2019
The Merced City Council held a special
meeting this week to review a “needs assessment”
for a new police headquarters to serve law enforcement officers
and residents as the population grows and the town expands
into the future.
From a planning perspective, it was the
most serious meeting yet in an overall discussion that’s
gone on for more than a decade, mostly driven by the hot-button
topic of what part of the city is the best place to put
a police headquarters.
That said, the intrigue continued at City Hall on Monday
night when the Merced College President Chris Vitelli spoke
about the possibility of creating a new police headquarters
on available vacant land near M Street and W. Cardella Road.
Vitelli said it would fit in perfectly with the college’s
facilities buildout plan that includes more law enforcement
training areas to complement existing programs. He also
mentioned possible grant funding for development.
It was a surprising twist to the talks; however, in the
end, city leaders carefully stepped around the “location,
location, location” issue, and even how the station
would be funded.
Instead, they focused in on the size and scope of what
exactly is needed.
Council members decided to move forward with a “centralized,”
full-service main station that would be able to house up
to 154 sworn officers, and 55 other staff members. That’s
about a 50 percent increase from the 98 sworn officer positions
currently in the department.
The growth is based on a population estimate of 122,000
people that could be seen at some point within the next
20 years. Merced has a population of about 84,000 today.
Leaders agreed the building space would be anywhere from
66,000 square feet to nearly 80,000 square feet, with the
possibility of a separate, onsite “support structure”
for evidence storage and other non-essential purposes. The
cost is hovering around $45 million; however, that still
depends on when the facility(s) actually get built.
“The more prepared we are, the more better positioned
we are to get something passed by the voters as well as
receive help from Sacramento,” Mayor Mike Murphy told
his colleagues. “A centralized model is what we are
hearing is the right way to go from our professionals —
both in-house and our consultants. At the same time, I’m
not willing to walk away from having investments in our
neighborhoods. We want to balance these needs.”
Yes, there was some debate among council members about
not having a centralized station model, and instead developing
significant “substations” in the north, central
and south areas of the city. Councilmen Matt Serratto, Fernando
Echevarria, and Anthony Martinez all voiced concern about
a centralized police station, particularly if it’s
located to the north, where the city is sprawling toward
Serratto pointed out that a large portion of voters would
not support a much-needed bond measure to finance the headquarters
if a centralized northern location was chosen.
“Constituents would much rather prefer substations
… in the south and the downtown core,” he said.
“There’s a huge perception that the downtown
core isn’t safe, and the south side isn’t safe.
… If we take a police headquarters to the north, how
are they going to vote?”
Councilman Martinez interjected and flat out said he would
not support a move, for example, to the suggested location
near Merced College.
Police Chief Chris Goodwin spoke up and expressed the need
to educate people on what the police department does with
regard to community interaction. He said nearly all of it
does not happen inside the police headquarters. First of
all, he said, police patrols are equally distributed throughout
the city at any given hour of the day. It doesn’t
matter what station they drive out from. He also mentioned
a variety of ways police officers engage with the community
at events, forums, town halls, the Citizens Academy, Neighborhood
Watch meetings, etc.
“I think it’s one building,” Goodwin
said when asked how he would prefer the headquarters to
be shaped. “The reason is everything is there in one
He said a centralized location will increase communication
between officers, especially before and after shifts. He
pointed out evidence would be housed in one place, and employees
would have ample protected parking.
This week’s meeting also brought in architect and
financing consultants who presented various options of what
a new main station would feature inside and out, as well
as financing options. A community/conference room, shared
Starbuck-like spaces for report writing, expanded locker
room space, spacious and secured parking, and room for growth
to expand evidence storage, perhaps in a separate, onsite
Nevertheless, Chief Goodwin and the rest of the council
members all expressed favorable views about future police
“outposts” or “storefronts” where
residents living in various areas or neighborhoods of the
city could go to reach out to law enforcement with concerns,
to request reports and share information.
The idea was also expounded on at the meeting by none other
than Casey Steed — a former local political candidate
and a current local radio talk show host who critiques city
government on air and often attends public meetings to voice
“I think you should go with a central station and
have community store fronts where people can do reports,”
he advised the council. “The president of Merced College
gave you a gift tonight. You have an entity that’s
been in town since 1962 that has a lot of land. We have
to look to 2025 and beyond, and that will be the central
part of town. The university is the anchor now. It’s
not Castle anymore.
Merced College is your answer.”
Former City Council member Michael Belluomini also spoke
up during public comment and urged city leaders to try and
get a bond measure for the police station on the November
2020 ballot so they can avoid rising construction costs.
Mayor Murphy later explained that leaders and city staff
members are also focused on a bond measure for extending
Measure C which supports police and fire staffing. He said
if both bond measures are put forth in 2020, “it would
likely lead to the demise of both.”
Councilman Serratto suggested a police and fire facilities
bond be put on the ballot in 2022.
The City Council directed staff to work with their consultants
and come up with cost estimates and site ideas with regard
to a “centralized” main headquarters. Feedback
is expected within about two months.