For two hours early Wednesday morning, in the midst of a strong fall rain storm, the phones and computers went down at the Salt Lake City Police Department. Rain had seeped through the roof and ceiling of the nearly 50-year-old structure, essentially frying the motherboard, according to Salt Lake City police detective Jeff Bedard.
Police and dispatchers managed incoming phone traffic by transferring 911 calls to the Valley Emergency Communications Center. When dispatchers there received 911 calls for the city, they called Salt Lake dispatchers on cell phones. They, in turn, telephoned police officers. That's no way to operate a police department.
While limited in scope, this disruption illustrates the ongoing issues with the Salt Lake Police Department's aging headquarters. The structure is too small and outdated to the point it fails to meet the city's fire codes. The elevators work only part of the time. The parking garage is crumbling.
Although Salt Lake police could continue to make do with these less-than-adequate conditions, the physical condition of the building has begun to affect police work and morale. Officials fear that evidence from criminal cases will be misplaced because it is scattered in multiple locations in the city.
The larger issue is the vulnerability of the city's public safety facilities in the event of a catastrophic event. The city's dispatch abilities were hobbled by a rain storm. What if the city experienced a major earthquake or a terrorist attack?
It's time to build new police and fire structures that would enhance emergency preparedness and service delivery to residents of Salt Lake City. On Nov. 6, Salt Lake voters will be asked to authorize the Salt Lake City Council to borrow up to $192 million to construct a new public safety building, including a parking structure; build a new emergency operations center to house police and fire dispatch and coordinate emergency situations; replace an aging fire station with a combined fire-police facility on the city's east side; and construct a west-side fire station and fire training center at 1560 S. Industrial Road.
The bond would be repaid with property tax revenues. For the owner of $200,000 home, the estimated cost would be about $115 per year.
While some homeowners may balk at the property tax hike, they need to remember that public safety is an essential city service. Not only do these agencies provide police and fire protection to city residents, they serve a city that is the state's capital and the headquarters to an international church. These agencies need structures and training facilities that will enhance their abilities to do their jobs and serve a public that not only includes city residents, but the thousands of people who work and travel in and out of the city each day.
For all of these reasons, we urge you to vote yes on Salt Lake City's Proposition 1.