Home Haddonfield News Haddonfield gets state money for new police headquarters

Haddonfield gets state money for new police headquarters

State funding is largest in recent memory

Senator James Beach recalls seeing the poor conditions of the Haddonfield Police Department Headquarters and the importance of the situation impressed by Mayor Colleen Bianco Bezich on July 10 amidst local officials from neighboring towns. (EMILY LIU/The Sun)

Under a sweltering sun on July 10, Mayor Colleen Bianco Bezich announced a  one-time, $5-million line item in the state budget to fund new headquarters for Haddonfield police at the Bank of America on Walnut Street. 

Though the borough had previously authorized $2.6 million to purchase the bank property, Bianco Bezich said funds from the state could also be used to pay off  that debt in advance.

“I’m hopeful that the $5 million from the state budget will enable us to do a $5-million project, and hopefully help us offset some of what we’ve already spent, considering we’ve already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on attempted fixes to the existing basement,” said the mayor, who noted that the state funding is the largest amount Haddonfield has received in recent memory. 

The current police headquarters is in the basement of borough hall and has faced a range of issues for decades, including consistently failing state Department of Corrections (DOC) requisites for operating a station. The  department had previously given waivers to Haddonfield, but refused to do so in 2022 without reassurance of a longer-term fix.

Prior borough administrations have examined the costs of extending the current police headquarters. The cost to make repairs and potentially expand instead of moving, Bianco Bezich estimated to cost about $20 million. The mayor began seeking government funding during COVID in 2020.

“COVID really evidenced the need to give them a safer space,” she explained. “They really could not work out of the basement safely when the restrictions were in place for 6-foot distancing and the air quality was so poor.” 

While the borough considered moving police to the postal building in 2021, the idea was ultimately rejected because having a holding cell and ammunition in the space was not something the postal service permitted. The Bank of America deal  was approved earlier this year.

State Sen. James Beach noted that the police department’s poor housing conditions and Bianco Bezich’s persistence were the main reasons he prioritized the  project.

“I’ve had the experience of walking downstairs and just kind of being in the building, and (the mayor) impressed upon me the importance of making sure that the police department had a better work environment,” Beach recalled. “And when she did that, it actually made this a top priority for funding.”

Bianco Bezich elaborated on the importance of a new building.

“First is officer health and safety and then it is things like being able to interview a victim or a witness safely, away from a potential abuser,” she said. “It is things like responding to mental health crises. It is things like in the emergence of the storm we just had, the chief not being stuck in a basement where radio dispatch and other communications are not going to work.”

Though this wasn’t the case, because the chief was in his vehicle, Bianco Bezich noted that it could have been as the basement regularly floods when it rains.

Among issues with the police department’s current headquarters are humid  basement air, a lack of windows, poor air circulation and mold. The bench for victims and people needing to be interviewed sits in the middle of the hallway, leaving no privacy. There is only one employee locker room, a small space without accommodations for nursing mothers.

Flooding and broken pipes in the basement required room renovations and the building’s lobby floors and ceilings were recently replaced. Conditions were so bad at one point, the department had to temporarily process cases out of the Haddon Heights police headquarters.

Chief Jason Cutler hopes to have an all-purpose room that can be used for training and community events in the new building. They are currently in the process of finding an architect for the project. The building is also two-and-a-half times bigger than the current space, and Cutler estimates work will be completed anywhere from one year to 18 months.

“ … This new building is just amazing,” he enthused. “I can’t tell you how happy we are, how happy my officers are that, eventually, we’ll be … into a 21st-century facility.”

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