It's been 30 years since Fayetteville spent $1.5 million to renovate a building behind it's City Hall that formerly housed a J.C. Penney automotive repair shop.
The city in the early 1990s needed a new police station. Its police force had simply run out of room where it was, in an 8,000-square-foot facility. The converted automotive center on Rock Street offered triple that space.
They moved into it in 1993, the same year the agency hired a rookie officer named Mike Reynolds. Today, he's the city's police chief.
Reynolds recalls proudly walking into the larger police headquarters as a new hire about a month after it had opened. He said he was making about $8 an hour and "thought I was rich." Loaded with the gear of his chose profession, he was being escorted to the locker where he would be store it.
His guide him past the men's locker room. They kept walking until the young officer stood in a public hallway lined with more lockers. That's where he'd go every work day to begin preparing for his shift. It took him a few years before he worked up enough seniority to move into the actual men's locker room.
The "new" police headquarters was too small for the growing police force from the moment it moved in.
Reynolds doesn't expect that to be the case in the coming days as his department begins moving into a new $37 million headquarters facility that is, again, more than triple the space of the existing HQ. Voters in 2019 agreed to fund a new headquarters as part of a bond election that provided capital funding for several projects around the city, from the cultural arts corridor now marketed as The Ramble downtown to the city's newest fire station right next door to the future police headquarters at Deane Street and Porter Road.
Actually, the city renamed a segment of Porter Road in front of the new police/fire campus to memorialize Stephen Carr, a Fayetteville police officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty as he prepared for a shift behind the existing police headquarters downtown.
The push to make the police station more secure was intensified by that tragedy, and the new facility unquestionably provides more security. But it also provides much-needed space for officers to simply function effectively like any organization needs to.
Reynolds and Deputy Chief Jamie Fields recently were kind enough to give me a tour of the building. You can hear some of the comments I recorded as we sent through the building by listening to my Speaking of Arkansas podcast at nwaonline.com/423soapolice/.
Having been inside the current police headquarters, it's my opinion the city squeezed every ounce of its investment out of the structure and desperately needed new space. And the new facility is impressive -- beyond an incredible public entrance and lobby. Its training area features an indoor firing range insulated well enough it can't be heard outside its walls. It features a room for hand-to-hand tactics designed for both defending the officers and potentially de-escalating difficult situations. Virtual training technology will allow the department to run officers through any scenario they want -- from writing a traffic citation to a deadly force situation.
The podcast is worth a listen by anyone interested in Fayetteville or, more generally, in Arkansas law enforcement. And once officers are in the building for a few weeks, they plan to open the facility up for public tours. It's impressive enough that I'd recommend everyone go take a look.