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Olga Peters/The Commons

Mold covers the walls of the locker room in the basement of the Municipal Center.

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‘Substandard and unsafe’

A police captain takes media through a tour of the Brattleboro Police Department, complete with gardens of mold, peeling paint, and safety vulnerabilities — many small problems that create larger challenges

BRATTLEBORO—From tying up fallen mufflers to plugging leaky pipes, baling twine, duct tape, and Yankee ingenuity have helped stretch many a household budget.

The Brattleboro Police Department has also put this philosophy of making do into practice — albeit with a little less baling twine and a few more donated Simplicity pattern cabinets.

The police department and the Brattleboro Fire Department are holding open houses throughout the month every Tuesday starting at 5 p.m. Anyone looking to tour Brattleboro’s three emergency service stations can just show up at the door, say department chiefs.

The departments’ goal is to help illuminate for voters why the BPD and BFD’s existing stations need a multi-million-dollar rehabilitation.

According to department and town leadership, the three stations are quickly nearing the end of their useful lives. The town’s proposed rehabilitation project would fix health, safety, and architectural issues at the three stations.

Moving forward with financing the project, however, has met with controversy. Voters opposed to the project say the corresponding tax increase will place an undue burden on an already overtaxed and under-earning population.

A tour without visitors

Captain Mark Carignan stood in the hallway of the Municipal Center to greet people wanting to tour the station on Jan. 5.

Two members of the media (The Commons and Brattleboro Community Television) appeared, but no members of the public stood waiting for the captain.

If he was disappointed, he didn’t show it.

The station’s workflow isn’t practical, said Carignan as he opened the door to the officers’ workspace.

Although they work on the same shift team, the lieutenants and sergeants’ offices sit in separate areas. The chief’s office is on one side of the public hallway with the officers and dispatch. Carignan has his office on the opposite side of the hallway with the detectives and records managers.

Not because he supervises either group, Carignan said — that’s were there happened to be an empty office.

Separating the the officers from the sergeants or lieutenants “slows down their work,” he said.

There’s not enough adequate storage, Carignan said as he tapped a stack of breath alcohol tests sitting in a corner between interrogation room one and the officers’ break room. Things get squirreled away wherever they fit, not where it’s practical or logical.

Not everything is wrong with the station, Carignan said — the patrol officers’ area has a good layout. But he qualified that positive by noting that the officers are separated from their supervisors.

Pointing to the lunch area nearby, Carignan said it poses a safety issue. It’s located near one of the interrogation rooms, and officers can’t fully relax while they’re eating in case a non-cooperative prisoner is being moved to interrogation.

In a hallway off the officers’ area, Carignan pointed to a laptop sitting near a photocopier. He said that it’s the only place to keep the laptops that officers take into the field. It’s dusty and unsecured.

When asked what caused the paint to peel in a wide swath in the corner behind the photocopier, Carignan pauses and stares.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he finally said. “This sounds terrible, but it’s been like that for so long I stopped noticing.”

He then pointed to a water-stained ceiling tile.

It’s not from a roof leak, he clarified. It’s from the heating and cooling system in the ceiling.

In the summer, the air conditioning unit leaks, Carignan added. The officers put a bucket under it.

Carignan opened the door to the dispatch room, where personnel field calls for multiple departments and emergency situations, including the BPD and BFD.

“There’s a tremendous amount jammed in here,” he said.

The dispatch supervisor sits in the same room, Carignan continued. The supervisor orders supplies or performs other duties in an environment where the dispatchers are trying to triage emergencies.

It’s an inefficient setup, he said.

Stairway to chaos

Carignan showed the steep and narrow cement stairs leading to the basement cells.

The cell blocks are off limits for this tour because they’re holding prisoners, he said.

Cold air rushes down into the cell block when the back door to the station is opened, he continued. The prisoners feel it.

The situation is not exactly inhumane, he said — but, he acknowledged, “it’s freezing cold.”

The external doors leading into the two sides of the department are locked. Once someone is inside the department, however, there’s no security.

“It’s unsafe and it’s not efficient,” he said.

Leading the way from the officers’ area and dispatch, Carignan crossed the public hallway, which concerns the police department, Carignan said. There, he pointed out, members of the public — who are sometimes crime victims — have no privacy.

He unlocked the door to the records department, where records storage is an issue for the police. In some cases — those involving homicides or fatal car crashes, for example — state law requires departments to retain permanently some records or evidence.

The department stores records and evidence as they do many other items throughout the building: wherever there is space.

Carignan explains that records for the most immediate years stay in the record clerk’s office. Other years are stored in various areas of the building.

The clerks receive approximately a dozen public records requests a week, he said. Requests range from people seeking statistical data to people needing an accident report for their insurance company.

Dispatch routes these calls. In a new or improved station, members of the public could request and receive records directly. Designs for the various scenarios under consideration provide the clerks with their own window, Carignan continued.

“We want the department to be more accessible for people in those circumstances,” he said.

Located between the records department and the detectives’ area is the department’s conference room. Storage lockers line one wall. The room serves for roll call, training space, and meeting space.

The conference room sits on the opposite side of the hallway from where the officers actually work, Carignan said. It’s not large enough.

Department-wide meetings can’t happen in the department, Carignan said. On July 4, 15 to 20 officers receive a briefing before the annual parade.

“It’s standing room only,” he said.

Also, many items in the storage lockers — like Tasers — should logically be stored elsewhere, Carnigan continued.

In the detectives’ area, Carignan said that the evidence room lacks ventilation. It reeks of marijuana, he said.

A second interview room — a converted equipment storage area — sits to the side of the detectives’ area.

It works, but it’s a vulnerable location for an interrogation room, Carignan said. The setup allows potential perpetrators near sensitive evidence.

“That’s absolutely a problem,” he said.

Meanwhile, if the officers decided to arrest someone in Interrogation Room 2, they must walk that person across a public hallway to the booking area.

That’s demeaning for the arrestee, Carignan noted. It’s also dangerous for the public if that person acts out.

Recycled furniture

The lateral file cabinets outside Interrogation Room 2 bear the logo for Simplicity patterns.

Carignan winces a little when asked about them.

Yes, he said. Those are former dress pattern cases. When JC Penney closed its Brattleboro store a decade ago, it donated the cabinets to the department.

It was a generous donation and much needed, Carignan said. “And it’s funny, but it’s a little embarrassing too.”

After crossing through a portion of the basement shared with other Municipal Center departments, Carignan unlocked the door to the BPD’s locker room and workout area.

Towels and workout gear hang from locker doors and clothes hangers. A dehumidifier hums next to one of the shower rooms.

The machine runs 24/7/365 because it’s always damp down here, Carignan said.

No one leaves anything damp in their lockers, Carignan explained. If they do, the items turn moldy within days.

“They get really dingy and nasty in the lockers,” he said.

To make his point, he poked the stone basement wall. The white paint fluttered to the ground like a mini snowfall.

In the gym area of the basement, where officers are breathing deep during their workouts, mold has eaten away at the paint and taken over the walls, Carignan noted.

When asked why the floor feels springy, the captain tapped the floor with his boot.

No idea, he answered.

Behind the lockers, blooms of black fuzz in a garden of mold cover the stone.

Carignan pointed to a bank of lockers arranged to create a screened-off area.

There’s no space down here to create a separate women’s changing area, he said. The boxed-off corner shields the women officers while they’re changing, but it’s not fully private.

Back in the hallway outside dispatch, Carignan ran through the list of challenges the current station poses for the department.

“It’s not one single issue,” he said of the challenges. When aggregated, the little issues build up to big problems with efficiency, safety, protecting the public, and security.

BPD wants to be a progressive, innovative, and modern police department, Carignan said.

Meanwhile, the department spends a lot of time “patching together and making do with what we’ve got,” he said.

The facility adds to the department’s problem with retaining officers, Carignan said, noting that a female officer recently left.

Most of the officers have grown accustomed to a “substandard and unsafe facility,” he said.

“That’s not okay,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #339 (Wednesday, January 13, 2016). This story appeared on page A1.

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