The Harrisburg Police Bureau is on track to open a police substation in Allison Hill in late summer 2018, but officials said last night that it will not offer the full-time services they initially proposed.
The bureau first announced plans to open a 24-hour precinct in on S. 15 Street in 2016. Since then, personnel shortages have forced it to delay renovations to the station site and scale back staffing plans.
During last night’s hearing on the 2018 budget, Police Chief Tom Carter and Capt. Derric Moody told City Council that the substation will not operate 24/7 or have civilian staff when it opens in August 2018.
Police may expand operations at the substation as they grow their ranks. The city hopes to hire 20 new officers and a community policing coordinator next year.
“Our goal is to have full service there, but, realistically speaking, we can’t currently achieve that with the manpower we have,” Moody said.
The new plan is to use the substation as a staging area for specialized police units and an outpost for officers responding to calls Allison Hill. The 1,600-square-foot building will include a space for police trainings and community meetings, as well as a squad room, break room, equipment room and locker room with showers.
It will also have an area for a receptionist, though there are currently no plans to hire one. Members of the public will be able to enter the substation for public meetings or interviews with police officers, but will not have access the same administrative services as the Public Safety Headquarters downtown.
“We’re trying to provide a central location for officers,” Moody said.
He added that plans to open the substation came after residents in Allison Hill called for a larger police presence in their neighborhood.
Council member and public safety committee chair Cornelius Johnson was surprised to learn last night that police would not open a precinct as they initially planned.
“It sounds like we’re going to use the building as we have been, it’ll just be prettier,” he said.
Harrisburg police have operated a substation out of a cinder building on S. 15<sup>th</sup> street since the early 2000s. The empty building is not insulated or fully wired with electricity, but currently serves as a rudimentary break room for officers working on Allison Hill.
This year, the bureau decided to demolish the existing structure and install a steel modular building in its place.
“For this footprint, modular is better for speed and cost,” Moody said. “We won’t have much on-site construction.”
The station will be built at a modular construction plant then disassembled and brought to Harrisburg on tractor-trailers.
The city plans to send the modular project out to bid by Feb. 1. The bureau hopes to be at full complement by the time the station opens in August, but still does not want to make a staffing plan based on hypothetical hires.
“We don’t want to overpromise,” said Mayor Eric Papenfuse.
He reaffirmed the city’s plan to vacate the decrepit Public Safety Building on Walnut Street in the next two to five years and said the substation could eventually accommodate full-time staff as employees relocate.
Capt. Gabe Olivera said that the bureau would need to reallocate IT and tactical equipment before it could operate the 15th Street substation as a 24-hour precinct.
It’s also possible that staffing the facility 24-7 would require a renovation. Olivera also said that the building would need to be much larger to accommodate full-time operations, but Papenfuse insisted that the 1,600-square-foot footprint would be sufficient.
The substation construction will be funded by a $700,000 allocation from the city’s general fund and $200,000 in Community Development Block Grant money. This is the third year the police have hoped to use CDBG funds for the substation project. In 2015 and 2016, they had to use CDBG allocations to pay overtime details in Allison Hill.
Editor’s note: This article was corrected on Dec. 14 to clarify the requirements for expanding hours at the substation. The police would not need to invest in more tactical and IT equipment to expand the station hours; they would need to reallocate equipment they already have in their headquarters.