Tupelo police offices jam packed

BY ANDY KANENGISER

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Roof leaks, cramped storage and tight quarters for detectives and other personnel are some of the major building problems for the Tupelo Police Department.

Those challenges and more would vanish if Police Chief Harold Chaffin is successful with his campaign for a new police headquarters to put the 124-person department under one roof.

Chaffin and colleagues are trying to sell the City Council and public on the idea.

It doesn't have to be a hard rain for the buckets and trash baskets to be pulled out so the carpet doesn't get soaked again at the TPD records division at 322-324 Court St. Nearby the occasional drips from the ceiling tiles hit file cabinets and dozens of boxes of criminal records, accident reports and complaints dating back to the 1960s.

The building also houses administrative offices, the crime lab and criminal investigation division.

Paying $400 per month to lease a 1960s era building from the Tupelo Water & Light Department, Chaffin said there's got to be a better way – he's pressing for a new downtown headquarters to be built near the jail the city shares with the county.

“It's needed – we're scattered all over the place,'' said Capt. Cliff Hardy, whose small office alongside Court Street was split in two by a partition so he can share it with another officer. “We just don't have space.''

A new building would enhance the communications and effectiveness of the Tupelo police housed in three separate locations – two offices downtown and a narcotics unit near the Tupelo airport, Hardy said.

And, for sure, a modern facility would eliminate problems posed by a leaking roof.

“A new police station is certainly a top priority,'' said City Council President Dick Hill. “We are exploring the interest on the part of the county in a joint headquarters.''

Besides the cramped quarters for Tupelo police, “sooner or later we will run out of jail space,'' Hill said of the city-county facility with 202 inmates. ” I hope the county is open to the idea.''

Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said he's open to the idea of putting all of law enforcement here under one roof. “It is definitely something long range and way down the road. … It's smart.''

The city and county would need to get together to “see who puts what in,'' said Johnson, whose department has 141 employees.

Johnson recently met informally with Chaffin and Mayor Ed Neelly to discuss the subject. Talks are continuing.

Hill estimated the cost of a new Tupelo police headquarters at about $3 million. Chaffin seeks a 30,000-square-foot facility to replace 17,915 square feet now. The city is contacting architects to develop proposals.

By August, city officials should have a good idea on building designs and how to pay for a new police station as they prepare the budget for the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1. It's something city leaders considered more than a year earlier – looking at the possibility of converting the Main Street post office building to police offices, but that proved unworkable and too costly.

Chaffin is familiar with inadequate space issues.

When he was hired here in 1974, Chaffin was among 43 Tupelo officers. Today, 110 men and women are in uniform and the facilities are little different from 32 years ago, he said.

“We are literally running out of room,'' said Sgt. Mark Miller on Tuesday as he gave a tour of the jam-packed storage room where boxes of decades-old paper records are beginning to deteriorate. More than 10,000 criminal records are overrunning file cabinets and stacks of boxes.

Hill and other city leaders also are sizing up costs and need for other key public facilities, such as two new fire stations – one near The Mall at Barnes Crossing and the other in the west side of town.

Insiders say it will take millions of dollars to build more fire stations, which would help improve the city's fire rating and cut insurance costs for residents. At the same time, fire protection would be expanded to citizens, especially if the city succeeds in annexing 10.2 square miles. In a chancery court, the city's annexation plan is being fought by Lee County and some citizens, who predict it will raise their taxes.

Contact Andy Kanengiser at 678-1590 or andy.kanengiser@djournal.com