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They can’t finish it soon enough

North Liberty’s new police station is coming together slowly
North Liberty Police Chief Diane Venenga watches as workers continue to build out the interior of the new police station on Cherry Street. Construction began soon after an April 2019 groundbreaking ceremony and was expected to take about a year.

NORTH LIBERTY– They’ll have to wait just a little bit longer.
While construction work progresses slowly on the new North Liberty Police Department facility (across from the fire station on Cherry Street) Chief Diane Venenga and her officers and staff continue to work out of their cramped quarters at 5 E. Cherry St.
It could be worse. The department, founded in 1999, started out across North Main Street in what was at the time home to the police department, city hall, and the fire department.
In 2010, the department moved to its current location, gaining vital space for the growing organization. However, as the city continued to grow, from 13,374 in 2010 to a 2018 estimate of 19,239, so did the police department. Currently there are 21 sworn officers including Chief Venenga along with some administrative staff in an 1,800-square foot converted house. Last April, the city approved plans and specifications for the $5.7 million, 16,000-square foot facility, and a groundbreaking ceremony was held on April 11, 2019.
At the ceremony, City Administrator Ryan Heiar said, “The Police Department has operated in what I would call hand-me-down facilities. They started in a little front office here (in the current fire station), they’ve been across the street (at the corner of Cherry Street and North Front Street), and when they moved in there, I promised Diane (Venenga), two years, three years, we’ll have you in a new facility. Here we are, eight years later breaking ground.”
When completed, the facility will have a number of first-time features for the officers, including a double-wide, double-deep sally port, which will always have one side “clean” or “sterile,” Venenga said. However, it will not be “sterile” in a medical sense, but rather free of any items sitting around. Also, it will have a section dedicated to “processing” vehicles. In other words, if a car is involved in a crime, the officers will have the space to go over it for fingerprints or other evidence in a secure environment. Officers examining controlled substances and toxic materials, such as fentanyl (which can cause harm merely through skin contact) will have a dedicated area to perform necessary testing while a constant flow ventilation system adds a layer of protection.
Items considered to be evidence will be placed in secure lockers, and once placed inside, only a designated person will be able to access those items while a key card system and monitoring cameras will keep a permanent record of any and all movements of the evidence.
“It has to be categorized, logged, who touched it, when it was pulled out, when it was moved, when it was put into storage,” Venenga explained. “If something is breached, we’ll be able to go back and pinpoint when, where, how. It really makes it a more secure and safer facility.”
Another special ventilation system will be located in the secured room designated for storage of confiscated drugs while interview rooms located away from the busier portions of the facility will provide quiet, secure and confidential spaces for investigators to do their work, and for crime victims to make reports and give statements.
While Venenga is the department’s only female officer, at this point, the new locker room will be unisex with private showers and changing rooms. The locker room (and the lockers within) will also be ventilated in such a way as to keep the air fresh at all times, avoiding that classic “locker room smell.” The officers will have a workout room, a training room (which will be made available to local groups and organizations, such as the Boy Scouts), and another first, a meeting room for the oncoming shift to meet and brief before hitting the streets. Today’s law enforcement officer has a veritable plethora of equipment and items they take with them to their patrol unit at the start of their shift, and then pack back into the station at the end of the watch. A series of equipment racks near the entryway to the squad car parking lot will make for a shorter trip.
Planning for the facility has been in the works for roughly three years, the chief said. “It’s been a long process. We did a lot of touring of other police facilities that are new or under construction. Our architect, The Police Facility Design Research Group (in Kansas City, Mo.), that’s all they do is build police facilities. They’ve built over 200. They have the research, they have the best practices and everything in-place including the latest technology that’s out there. They’ve been a great resource for us.”
Venenga also attended a weeklong seminar by the International Association of Chiefs of Police regarding the design and construction of a new police facility.
The officers also have had input into what will be their workplace throughout the process, starting with an initial needs assessment. “All of the officers were invited to come in and explain what they want, what they need, what are their wishes, and then practicality… what we can get,” the chief said. “Everybody was involved,” she said and added that involvement continues as the focus shifts to more routine elements such as furniture. “We held a chair rodeo,” she said, “they got to test out the ones they liked, they didn’t like, so we’ve implemented that into what’s going to be in the training room and the briefing room. So they get a say in what they’re going to be working with.”
Making the officers’ jobs easier was fundamental throughout the design process, she said. “This really is a police officer’s building. We’re not open to the public (beyond the front lobby), so we wanted to make sure when they’re carrying all of their gear to their car, it’s as close as possible, that they don’t need a cart to wheel everything out. Right now, they’re hands are full carrying everything out, and at the end of shift, they’re carrying everything back in, so we’re trying to make it as convenient as possible for the officers that are in here every day.”
Venenga has been a cop for 24 years and chief of the North Liberty department for six. While basic police work has more or less remained the same, the amount of technology involved has increased dramatically. One room in the new station will be dedicated to investigating cyber crimes, for example. Another room will facilitate downloading and storing video recorded by the officers’ dash cams and body cams.
The original move-in date was supposed to be March 18, however Venenga said the contractor (Tricon Construction Group) has asked for a delay. “We’re still talking with them over how much of a delay that’s going to be,” she said. The bottom line though, “We need to get in as soon as possible,” the chief said, so they can learn and adapt to the new building’s mechanical and security systems.
At the groundbreaking Venenga summed up what having a dedicated facility means to her and the department as a whole when she said, “A lot of our work, our real police work, occurs in the squad cars out on the street, and that’s a fine representation for our North Liberty Police officers. But what this police department is going to bring for us is a secure environment that’s actually built as a police facility. It won’t be one of those hand-me-downs that we’ve had where we’ve made stuff do, now we’re going to make this facility work for us.”