Building Community Policing From the Ground Up
Can a police department’s building design support the primary elements of community policing? Can a building enhance citizen trust in police? Can a building facilitate information-sharing within itself and in the community? The Milliken (Colorado) Police Department thinks so.
Dubbed the “hub of Northern Colorado”1, the town of Milliken’s population has doubled since 2001. With signs of continued population growth on the horizon, the Milliken Police Department needs to move its operations from its 80-year old headquarters with less than 1,000 square feet of space, to a new building that can accommodate a planned increase in police personnel. It was determined that a newly constructed building was the best solution to meet the needs of this growing town and its police department.
After garnering town support through a bond issue for the land purchase and new construction, the department was provided with an opportunity to incorporate elements of community policing directly into the physical design of its new building.
With funding from the COPS Office, the Milliken Police Department convened a multidisciplinary focus group to discuss what a community policing-friendly facility might look like. Facilitated by Colorado State University, the focus group included Milliken Police Department staff, town officials including the mayor and town administrator, Roth Sheppard Architects of Denver, COPS Office staff, and subject matter experts in community policing, CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design), architecture, and downtown redevelopment and technology. Together, the group worked toward incorporating a Community Oriented Policing Architecture and Environmental Design2 approach into the new building design, validating design ideas already on the table and brainstorming new ones. The group discussed how various physical aspects of the new police facility could be designed to support the primary community policing elements of partnerships, organizational transformation, and problem-solving, as described in the January 2008 Dispatch article, “Community Policing Defined.” The resulting ideas blended architectural practicality with community policing principles in the following ways:
- Locate the building on the town’s main street to send a message that the police are working in tandem with the community. Because of the building’s visibility, it would also create a “safe zone” that deters criminal behavior and minimizes opportunities for crimes of location in the area immediately surrounding the building.
- Create a large circular room called “the Great Room,” to house desks for both officers and investigators, arranged in a conference-table like formation and situated adjacent to command staff offices. This open-office environment would promote collaboration and information sharing among line officers, investigators, and command staff. Furthermore, rather than creating a separate theater-style briefing room, briefings would be held in the Great Room to encourage a collaborative approach.
- Have fully-transparent glass windows form one wall of the Great Room, elevated above and protruding slightly out from the front of the building toward the main street. While providing opportunities for natural surveillance of the downtown area, the windows would also convey a sense of transparency and police inclusion in the community.
- Divide the building into three zones: 1) a secure area with restricted access for police operations; 2) an intermediate locked semisecure area for fingerprinting, interviews or meetings; and 3) a public area including the lobby.
- Include a large multifunction meeting room to serve as meeting place for community groups, a place to conduct problem-solving projects, a municipal courtroom, emergency operations center, or a venue for police training.
- Position comfortable chairs in a corner of the lobby, perhaps adding a fireplace, to encourage informal communication between the community and police.
- Include a children’s lending library in the lobby to project a friendly face to kids.
- Design a porch in front of the police building that faces the main street to provide the police and the community with a venue for casual interactions.
- 1 http://town.milliken.co.us/
- 2 The term “Community Oriented Policing Architecture and Environmental Design” as developed out of a partnership between the Milliken Police Department and Colorado State University.
Construction is expected to begin in June 2008, and it remains to be seen which ideas will be incorporated. Whether all or some of the ideas will be used, the Milliken Police Department may be one of the few agencies that can truly say it has institutionalized community policing from the ground up.