The Menlo Park Police Department is negotiating the terms of a new police substation in the Belle Haven neighborhood, although it is unclear how the city will fund this.
The city does lease a building at the corner of Willow Road and Hamilton that is used as a substation, said Commander Dave Bertini.
“But it’s not really a substation,” Bertini told Patch. “It’s more like a little hole,” he said. “The last time I went in there, I was shocked at how dilapidated it looked,” he said.
The substation scrutinization process began a few weeks ago when Vice Mayor Raymond Mueller said he was studying this year’s proposed city budget to prepare for the summer budget discussions. He noticed that funding for a police substation in Belle Haven was missing.
“This is not acceptable,” Mueller told Patch Wednesday. “This is an example of an inequity,” he said, noting that it is “embarrassing” that cost could be a barrier to developing this in Menlo Park.
“If the problem had existed in my neighborhood we would have used money from the general fund to make it happen,” Mueller said. Mueller lives in West Menlo Park.
Carol Augustine, the city’s former finance director, departed from Menlo Park's city staff in March to work in Burlingame. Augustine's role is being filled on an interim basis, said Steven Green, financial analyst for the City of Menlo Park.
The city is paying about $12,000 a year for the existing substation, which is leased on a month-to-month basis, Green said. It is unclear how much the city would be able to spend on a new lease. Bertini said the police department is looking at a space at the intersection of Willow Road and Hamilton Road, although nothing is concrete.
To put things into context, the City of Menlo Park’s proposed 2012-13 fiscal year budget details a total of $39,929,328 in expenditures. $14,868,114 of that is scheduled to be spent on the Police Department this fiscal year, according to public records, up from two years ago, when it spent $13,927,897 on police. It should be noted that different pages within the budget contain different expenditure numbers for the same expenses.
The Menlo Park Police Department employs 47 sworn officers, according to Bertini. Two to three of them are dispatched to the Belle Haven neighborhood on a daily basis he said.
One thing that Bertini wanted to make clear is the difference between a substation and a regular police station. Substations are not always manned. They are spaces where officers go to do paperwork and use the restroom. The existing substation hasn’t been open to the public in more than a decade, Commander Bertini told Patch.
The goal for the new station is to make it a place where officers can go to write reports, use the restroom, and interview witnesses or victims.
Police also hope to hire someone to run the front desk.
“We hope to budget in a half-time records clerk who would work regular hours, like Monday through Friday from eight to noon,” Bertini said.
Green, the city’s finance analyst, says that for this to happen City Council would need to prioritize it and put the item on the Council's agenda. It is not currently scheduled for discussion, according to Green, although when we spoke he was on his way to talk about the next City Council meeting agenda.
Mueller, who made public safety a foundation of his election campaign, said that he is ready to start the conversation.
“I’m absolutely fine with using a one-time fund to make it happen, or cutting funding to other programs to make this work. It is not okay that we don’t have a police station where crime is the most prevalent in our community,” Mueller said.
“The first step to keeping a community safe is to empower the community with access to resources.”
Do you think having a police substation in the Belle Haven neighborhood is a good idea? Tell us in the comments.
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