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Police, court eye new shared facility

Advocates say shared quarters would improve workflow and security.

Pounding the gavel in a “glorified storage shed” just doesn’t have quite the ring one would expect to hear coming from a courthouse, Bainbridge Municipal Court Judge Steve Holman said.

Tucked in a small rental in Rolling Bay, the island’s courthouse is not only remote, it’s not as safe as it could be, he added.

But wheels are in motion that could draw the courthouse closer to downtown in a shared facility with the Bainbridge Police Department, which is undergoing its own growing pains.

The Bainbridge City Council on Wednesday approved funding a $12,000 study to assess the need for a new joint police and court facility.

“It makes a lot of sense for the police and courts to be near each other,” Holman said. “Police often testify in hearings, and we need security in the court. It would be economical to have the two functions in one building.”

Police Chief Matt Haney has said the department’s present building at the corner of Highway 305 and Winslow Way is outmoded and cramped. Rather than renovate or expand the building, Haney also advocates a joint-use facility.

“Our building doesn’t meet the national standards for police departments,” Haney said. “It was never designed for a police department, and safety is a big issue.”

A former fire hall, the building served for years as City Hall for Winslow and then the all-island city, before the new municipal building was constructed on Madison Avenue.

Police inherited the old building, but Haney said the overall layout doesn’t match the logical flow of processing suspects, victims and witnesses.

For instance, Haney said a rape victim might be within earshot, and sometimes within view, of the suspected rapist due to the close proximity of interview rooms. Drunk driving suspects must leave a secure holding cell for alcohol testing.

“It’s not a secure place and people can escape,” he said, “making it an unsafe place for police, the suspects and others.”

The building is also often in need of repairs and is regularly infested with ants, Haney added.

He agreed the courthouse also needs to be replaced.

“As a place for conducting dignified proceedings, it is anything but,” Haney said. “It is an embarrassment.”

He would prefer that his officers walk next door in a shared facility to testify in court hearings rather than drive five miles to Rolling Bay.

While no new locations are firmly set, both Haney and Holman have their eyes on a 15-acre parcel the city purchased several years ago for $500,000 at the southeast corner of New Brooklyn and Sportsman Club roads.

“There is some sentiment that the court should be located closer to the city core, but I’m not sure it has to be right downtown,” Holman said. “Right now, we’re not in the greatest location. Some of the people who come to the court don’t have a car. There’s no bus route that comes by, and many have to hitch a ride or take a cab.”

The court would also be safer and less prone to vandalism if located closer to police and the general population center, the judge said.

“We’ve had a couple incidents of broken windows and break-ins,” he said. “You only have to read the newspaper to know incidents happen in courtrooms all the time. Sometimes they’re catastrophic. Sometimes someone is shot or injured.”

The city selected island architect Dana Webber to conduct the study, which will document existing facilities and analyze security requirements, space needs, traffic impacts and possible costs.

Holman said he’d be satisfied with a modest building that serves basic needs.

“I’m not interested in the Taj Mahal,” he said. “I’m looking for function rather than fanciness.”

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