Current Condition of the Salem Police Station Definitely Lacking

January 9, 2015

by Bob Gibbs

The current Salem police station was approved by the voters of Salem in 1963 with a budget of $80,000 to build and equip the building and the police department.  At the time, the department had only a few officers to police a town of more than 24 square miles.

Now the police department is comprised of 96 full- and part-time employees.  The department is made up of one chief, one deputy chief, one captain, six lieutenants, seven sergeants, 45 full-time officers, 10 dispatchers, seven full-time civilian employees, 18 part-time officers and two K-9 officers.  Today the town’s population is close to 30,000 residents with thousands of people coming to town daily to work, shop and play.

Currently, the police station and its seven ‘out buildings’ have maximized the available footprint that is available.  Much of the area surrounding the property is made up of wetlands.  Buildings not seen from the street include the kennel, a fenced-in impound area, storage buildings for the police motorcycles, winter/summer equipment, motor vehicle spare parts, traffic control equipment and the special operations unit (SWAT).  There is also a rent pod unit used for records storage and a climate controlled-unit used for evidence storage.

As you arrive at the Salem Police Station, you can see that the building is in need of maintenance simply by viewing the outside of the building.  The concrete sidewalks are cracked with weeds coming through the cracks, bare light bulbs are visible, there is peeling paint and what appears to be an old hanger for a cigarette or trash receptacle.  The landscaping around the building is mainly crabgrass and uncared for shrubs.  Also, security for the front of the building is non-existent.

Entering the building, the entrance hall is dark, with old and dirty carpet; there is no buzzer or bell of any kind for you to notify the dispatcher that you are there.  There is a bare wire hanging from the wall.  This may have been a bell to the records department.  This bell has not been used in many years.

A view of the dispatchers’ office shows the room to be very crowded with all of the communication equipment a modern police department requires.  Several dispatchers and officers must work in this crowded area.  The raised floor panels are worn and the paint on the walls is chipped.

Further into the station as you travel down the narrow hallways, you can enter the officers’ work area.  This room, which was formerly a shower room, has a small drain in the middle of the floor.  The donated air conditioner in the window does not fit the window so that air from the outside enters the room.  The worktables are worn and wires come down from the ceiling to the computers used by the officers.

Heading down the hall to the roll call room, you will see that there is recent water damage to the rugs in the area.  The rooms where people are interviewed and questioned have no privacy or security.  Signs need to be placed in the hallways during interviews, so that the recording equipment does not pick up the sounds that come from these hallways.

The squad room is a small room with tables and chairs for 18 people.  At a recent promotion ceremony, most of the attendees had to stand.  A storage shelf has broken blinds in front of it.  Off the roll call room is the electronics and communications room.  This room has circuit breakers and telecommunications equipment for the entire building.  There is no space unused.

Entering the officers’ break room there is another hanging wire that seems to go to nowhere.  With seating for six officers, it is a very small space.  The fitness center is crammed with exercise equipment; once again, every inch of space is used.  Much of this equipment has been donated.  In the fitness center is the doorway to the weapons and ammunition closet.  Not the most secure area to say the least.

Entering the male officers’ locker room, you first see a water bubbler that by all accounts has never worked.  The water heater room is used as storage with makeshift shelving for the officers’ duty bags; the showers are very narrow with few showerheads.  The toilet area has broken sheet rock, stall doors that do not close and stall walls that are rusted.

The female officers’ locker room has one shower stall and one toilet that both need work.  Many areas of this very small locker room are used for storage of paper items and cleaning supplies.  Both locker rooms are painted in a 70s shade of pink.

Going into the attic, the first thing you notice is that there are wires everywhere.  Years and years of adding new technology have accumulated miles of wiring, much of which may no longer be used.  The wiring in the attic just looks like an electrical fire could happen at any time.  Then there are the mousetraps.

The sergeants’ room is congested with cubicles that need to be shared.  The honor guard uniforms take up one full large closet.  Again, this area has wires hanging from the ceiling and multiple plugs in outlets.  Water stains can be seen in the ceiling throughout the entire building.  From the sergeants’ area, you go into the detectives’ squad room.  This doorway has water damage on the floor and exposed fiberglass insulation in the ceiling.

The detectives’ rooms are one of the best areas of the station.  It is comprised of a triple-wide mobile home that has been purchased with money confiscated from criminals.  Many of the more recent purchases of equipment in the station have been purchased with drug forfeiture money.  This large room was used for a meeting with Senator Jeanne Shaheen to discuss the heroin issue.  The senator was brought in by a side door directly into the detectives’ room.  This was done, perhaps to not embarrass the department staff and the town.

Much of the upkeep in the station and the installation of new equipment, such as evidence lockers, has been done by the Salem officers themselves.  Unlike other town-owned buildings there is no maintenance staff of the station, only a nightly custodian.  Many of the officers have carpentry, plumbing, and electrical skills.

Entering the booking area, which has fingerprinting and photography equipment, there is one metal bench for an arrested person to be secured onto.  The equipment would be vulnerable to damage should a prisoner get out of control.  Small lockers that are used to secure belongings show signs of being pried open.

The cell area is very small with a narrow hall; a trouble area for officers should an arrest get out of control.  The young offender and female prisoner cells are adjoining.  One of the cells has been converted to storage for records and papers.  The bars in front of the cells are outdated and are considered a suicide risk.

Leaving the booking area you can enter the garage.  This garage is where officers would drive into in order to bring prisoners to booking.  This area is your typical garage.  With cleaning equipment and other items that could be dangerous to officers.  Additionally, there is a drain in the floor here that does not work.

The impound area is nothing more than a fenced-in area of the grassy yard.  This is where motor vehicles would be locked and secured if they were being held as evidence.  Not very secure.  There have been times when people would walk through the woods in hopes of sneaking into their vehicles in order to remove evidence of crimes.

Nearby is the kennel area.  There is an outside area for the dogs to run and play in with small doors for the animals to enter the main kennel building.  The K-9 handlers have a work area in this building, but it is not well heated or cooled and part of the area is used as storage for parts from the police cruisers.

Other buildings include a garage barely large enough to hold the police motorcycles.  Another building holds all the equipment of the Special Operations team, such as bulletproof jackets, helmets, gloves and other equipment.  Although the equipment is well organized, in the case of an emergency, the room would be very crowded with all of the officers attempting to reach their equipment.

Walking around and examining the main building obvious signs of age can be seen.  Rusted electrical boxes, splintered wooden shutters, face boards that have separated, and paint around the windows that is peeling.  Just outside the chief’s office is a large emergency generator that was installed just a few years ago.  It has not worked since shortly after it was installed.

The town’s police station is located on a heavily traveled road.  Some people could say the building is an embarrassment just from the outside.  On the inside, the building does not meet ADA requirements.  It does not meet the requirements that most people would want in their own workplace.  It cannot meet the growth of the town or of the expected improvements in technology.  The police staff has done a wonderful job making do with what they have been given.

It seems that there is much blame to go around for the condition of this building.  The police staff can blame the politicians.  The politicians and the public can blame the police.  Either way this building is not in good shape.  This building is full of expensive communications and law enforcement equipment that would be lost to the town in the case of a fire or other disaster.  Not to mention that anyone needing to exit the building in an emergency would have a difficult time.