When Warwick Police headquarters opened in 1976 it was a state of the art facility with a wide corridor with a receptionist, and connecting to prosecution, records department, dispatch, community …
When Warwick Police headquarters opened in 1976 it was a state of the art facility with a wide corridor with a receptionist, and connecting to prosecution, records department, dispatch, community room and offering an expansive view of Gorton’s Pond. Beyond what is easily accessible to the public were command offices, a locker room, drive in garage with detention facilities, roll call room and even a gun range. The detective division is housed on the second floor along with a reception area with a wall-sized black and white aerial photograph showing the city before the airport expanded and the Bruce Sundlun Terminal was built, before the city had a train station and Rocky Point was still an amusement park.
Not much has changed in the station since then. The shooting range has been replaced with gym equipment; Plexiglas encases the records department counter, a church pew (a gift from Father Robert Marciano, Connor surmises) provides seating for the public and rug tiles have replaced carpeting.
“It’s basically a cinder block building with wood paneling,” says Chief Bradford Connor from his second floor corner office overlooking the pond and Greenwood beyond. He’s right. It’s the same paneling, the same windows and ceiling tiles that generations of chiefs have called their office. Remarkably, three of the four HVAC units serving the building are the originals. The carpeting is the only thing that has changed. He labels public areas of the building in the “shabby” category. What the public doesn’t see is not much better off. Ceiling titles are stained from roof leaks and portable heaters that officers have brought in augment an erratic heating system.
Connor isn’t looking for new office digs. That won’t change if the city is successful in winning an earmark grant from the state’s Senate delegation that would be matched with American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for $14 million in station renovations.
Safety, security top concerns
Topping Connor’s list of improvements are enhanced safety and security.
Connor needn’t go further back than Jan. 14, 2022, during the pandemic when the community room was used for roll call because it allowed officers to be spread out to illustrate the need for enhanced security.
Outside of the room in full view of the receptionist, lingered a man who appeared agitated. As roll call was completed that afternoon at about 4:20, and the door opened a man, later identified as 29-year old Jacob Thomas, brandished a knife and lunged at Jessica Masso, a 3-year officer, striking her in the torso. Fortunately, the blade struck Masso’s body armor. She was not injured. Masso fired her weapon and, according to Connor’s account, Thomas came at the officers again. Three other officers discharged their firearms and a Taser was used to end the attack, which was immediately followed by successful life saving efforts.
Since the attack, the receptionist cubby has been closed and visitors are instructed to use a wall phone for information. The lobby, prosecution offices and community room are fully accessible. The second floor lobby is accessible by the elevator and stairway off the main entrance. Connor has made his point.
Soon after his appointment as chief, Connor outlined his concerns about the building to Mayor Frank Picozzi. At the time, Picozzi had a lot more immediate issues, from making refuse and recycling collections with an outdated fleet of trucks to a lack of rescue trucks that had the city borrowing vehicles from neighboring departments. As Picozzi tells the story, on a visit to the community room, he remarked on the dingy appearance of the room suggesting it could be brightened up with a fresh coat of paint. That lead to a tour of headquarters where among other aging elements, he was introduced to the locker room where he found doors falling off lockers.
The administration moved ahead with an appraisal of the structure.
“The idea in a perfect world would be to rebuild,” said Connor. Cost projections came back at $65 million to $70 million, which were out of question given the projected debt the city will assure to build new high schools. Means of improving the current building and funding other than bonding was explored.
“The bones are good,” Connor said of the structure that he said is large enough for the department for the foreseeable future. Apart from the uncontrolled public access to the headquarters, Connor cites the ungated parking lots for police personnel. There are cameras, but he calls the overall security a “patchwork.”
“We have one house and it’s pushing 50 (years old),” Connor said.
Architectural firm drafts plan
The city hired Kaestle Boos Associates, an architectural firm of Rumford, to look at the building. They returned with plans that carried price tags of upwards of $21 million. After a second and third look they came back with a proposal that “doesn’t move around too many walls and makes better use of floor space,” said Connor. The plan focuses largely on revisions to the first floor and parking. It also cut initial cost projections.
From a public perspective the most apparent changes are elimination the community room and introduction of a smaller lobby. There would be parking for 27 cars in front of the building. Bragger Street, that provides access from Greenwich Avenue for both police and fire, would loop around a fenced-in parking lot with building access from where prosecution offices are currently located. That area would house the locker room and gym. Prosecution would be relocated to the current locker room.
It was the condition of the locker room more than anything else that provided the catalyst for the administration to consider looking at the overall condition of the building, Connor said. The ceiling is stained from roof leaks and many of the locker doors are bent and fail to close properly.
Modest improvements are planned for the second floor. The Board of Public Safety meeting room will stay where it is as will command offices. The second floor lobby that has been furnished with corporate office hand-me-downs will also stay. “It will get a buff and fluff,” said Connor.
Connor is confident station renovations could be completed without having to relocate department headquarters. Also, he sees the building as being large enough to house the department. He doesn’t see the department growing or shrinking. The department has 175 officers. It is operating with 156 due to absences.
Connor has made headquarter improvements a personal goal of his tenure in the department’s lead position. He said work would take about 20 months to complete after funding is approved and construction starts.
On Tuesday Picozzi was hopeful of gaining an earmark for the improvements.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here