Residents debate need for new Kent Police station

Kent Police officers are crammed into tight work spaces at the current headquarters. Voters will decide in November whether to approve a $34 million bond measure for a new station at the current site. - Kent Reporter, file photo
Kent Police officers are crammed into tight work spaces at the current headquarters. Voters will decide in November whether to approve a $34 million bond measure for a new station at the current site.
— image credit: Kent Reporter, file photo

Kent resident Alex Senecaut prefers to see the city spend money on a new public works facility rather than a new police station.

But Marvin Eckfeldt and Monty Burich are all for a Nov. 4 ballot measure to increase property taxes to pay for a new Kent Police headquarters as well as improvements to the city jail and firearm training range for officers.

If voters give the $34 million bond measure its needed 60 percent approval, the property tax rate would be 19 cents per $1,000 assessed value or about $57 per year for a $300,000 home.

"The money would be better spent, in my opinion, on a new public works facility to be located on the East Hill," said Senecaut, who worked 36 years for the city of Kent before retiring a few years ago.

Senecaut will write the opposing statement in the King County Local Voters' Pamphlet. He was the only person who applied to the City Council to be picked for the opposition committee, which can have as many as three members.

Eckfeldt, Burich and rita ann Schwarting were picked by the council to write a statement in favor of the bond measure.

"We have a pressing need for better facilities for the Kent Police Department," said Eckfeldt, a retired minister who has lived in Kent since 1967. "The only way public funds can be raised is by the work of volunteer citizens who see the need. I want to help my community take this needed forward step."

Senecaut moved to Kent in 1974 when he took a job with the city. He worked as a technical analyst, in charge of the infrastructure data base, as his final job with the city.

"The current public works facility located at the end of West James Street is long past its life cycle," Senecaut said. "It has had minor upgrades over time but its location is in a seismically dangerous area. The fact is the personnel and their equipment who work from that facility are also first responders in emergency situations and if that facility is extensively damaged during the big one, which will happen eventually, it will cripple public works ability to respond quickly and effectively to that disaster."

Senecaut also didn't like the way police officers treated their patrol vehicles when he worked for the city. He said the city spent too much of its budget to fix up the vehicles.

"My impression as well as other employees at the city shops over time was that the officers drove them like they were in a video game," he said. "No worries about damaging them. There would always be a new replacement waiting at the shops. There did not seem to be any kind of oversight concerning this lack of care for the equipment. I realize they do a job that requires split-second decisions and each incident is unique but perhaps better training would have helped?"

Police Chief Ken Thomas asked the council at a workshop in April to send the measure to voters this fall. Kent has 144 officers and is expected to have 160 by 2016. The current station was remodeled in 1991 to handle about 75 officers. Employees are scattered at four different sites.

City officials plan to tear down the current police headquarters next to City Hall along Fourth Avenue South. The 19,000-square-foot facility would be replaced by a two-story, 48,000-square-foot building. Officers would be housed at temporary locations during construction which could take 12 to 18 months.

About $800,000 of the bond would be used to pay to rewire and re-plumb the city jail along Central Avenue and add a couple of new cells to handle inmates with mental health issues.

Burich lives in Renton but his children attend Kent schools. He said the city's growth to more than 120,000 residents requires new offices.

"With the increase in numbers, comes a need for more police support and better facilities to handle it all," Burich said. "The current station and jail was built for a small town with marginal growth. The growth of Kent and its neighborhoods has grown much more aggressively than what was originally planned. With the increase in people, came a bump in crime."

Schwarting saw the overcrowded offices.

"I’ve gone on a tour of the headquarters, have talked with several officers and have seen photographs that clearly show the crowded conditions our police work in," Schwarting said. "Kent is no longer a small community, it is a large city. As Kent has grown our police department has grown, however they are working out of a building that they’ve long outgrown."

She also believes jail repairs are necessary.

"It is a sad commentary that the highest percentage of those arrested have mental health issues," she said. "It is imperative for their safety and the safety of others that two more crisis cells are built. Updating the plumbing and electrical of the jail is also necessary for the safety of staff and the inmates."

Senecaut expects the measure to pass unless the economy suddenly turns bad.

"Most people are willing to throw money at emergency services," he said. "But they need too be more aware of how it is being spent."

Burich believes voters will approve the bond.

"I feel that the proposition will pass by a high margin, just due to the fact that we as citizens recognize that the world is not getting any easier, any less expensive, and the crimes seem to be more violent or frequent," Burich said. "Case in point, the recent shooting near the Carpinito Brothers produce stand in downtown Kent which injured a few of Kent's finest."

Eckfeldt stands confident as well that voters will pass the measure.

"I believe when the Kent citizens understand these pressing needs, and they learn of the economies in the planning (building on the current site, no purchase of new property) and how all of these improvements will support our nationally accredited Kent Police and make for a safer Kent – they will respond positively," he said.

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