Squeezed for Space: Leesburg Looks to Police Department Expansion

It was 1997 when Leesburg Police Department moved into what was then its shiny, new headquarters on Plaza Street. The department employed 53 sworn officers and 14 civilian personnel and served 24,000 residents.

Two decades later, the number of sworn officers has grown by almost 50 percent while the population has more than doubled, and town leaders say it’s time to take a serious look at expanding the police department.

A tour of the facility illustrates the striking reality that Leesburg’s law enforcement agency has not kept up with the town’s growth.

Except for the construction of an annex at the rear of the property several years ago to provide state-of-the-art storage for evidence and a crime lab, the department’s operating space has remained unchanged.

“We’ve nickeled and dimed this building to death,” Deputy Chief Vanessa Grigsby said. And she’s by no means exaggerating.

Plans to expand the department’s headquarters has languished on the town’s six-year Capital Improvements Program as a future capital budget, with no date, scope, or budget set. Meanwhile, department heads have had to make the best of the tight space. Walls have been erected to carve out office space for new officers. Some offices designed to house one detective or officer instead house two. Even closet space has been used as office space. The Citizen’s Support Team lost its office space. The department’s school resource and traffic officers have been moved to space in the Leesburg Executive Airport. Fingerprinting, once done in an office, is now done in the department lobby because of the lack of space.

In a move that Chief Gregory Brown admitted did not make him very popular with officers, the department’s exercise equipment was recently sold at auction. The gym space will now be used for office space and the proceeds of the auction used to fund that construction.

And the quiet room, once bunk space for officers needing to catch a few winks between shifts, has been replaced by two recliners that face each other in a breezeway next to a bathroom.

Even the sally port, the headquarter’s secured entry for moving prisoners, is now used for storage. So most arrestees are now taken directly to the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center, even if the arrest is made right in front of the department.

“When I first came on board and got a tour it did not take me long to ascertain that we’re already busting at the seams,” said Brown, who took over the position in September. “Particularly for police the equipment they use and their facilities can directly reflect their morale. It can have a negative impact or a positive impact. We’re grateful for what we have but it is time to grow.”

Brown and Grigsby also point to the town’s overall population, which has grown dramatically in the past two decades with thousands of more homes approved and in the construction pipeline. That will likely mean a need for more officer positions, but the two said their first priority filling the department’s vacancies.

There have been prior talks of creating a satellite office for the Police Department elsewhere in town. Although, department heads and Town Manager Kaj Dentler say it’s important to still keep the headquarters at the Plaza Street location. There is space on the site to expand, and the potential of adding a second floor on the building exists, Dentler said.

In 2011, the town conducted a space needs assessment that estimated that within 25 years the main headquarters building would need to be increased by 14,769 square feet, from its current 35,544 square feet, and the technical/support building by 6,154 square feet, according to Capital Projects Manager Tom Brandon. The technical/support annex was expanded by 1,900 square feet in 2013.

At the time, the cost to meet those needs with an expansion was estimated at $20 million, Dentler said. “That sent shockwaves,” he added.

The town manager said work is underway to update the 2011 study and reassess the overall needs of the department. Dentler also notes that moving the 12 officers stationed at the airport back to Plaza Street, or to another satellite facility, would open up office space the town could lease out, generating revenue.

Now, the plan is for the town to try to chip away at the expansion costs over the next several years. Town leaders want to at least cover design work costs in next year’s Capital Improvement Program.

Grigsby, who was with the department when it moved to the Plaza Street facility 20 years ago, said the police headquarters then was a big upgrade for officers.

“We loved it when first moved in. We came from the third floor of Town Hall. This was like paradise for us,” she said.

But the warm feeling has dissipated and, for the moment, paradise seems to be lost.

krodriguez@loudounnow.com

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