For nearly two decades, Mary Thoemke has been pushing with other residents to get the men and women in blue back to her North End neighborhood of St. Paul.
The Central District, which serves the North End, downtown, West Side and a small part of Frogtown, is the only one of the city’s three patrol districts to not have its own free-standing station in the community it serves.
On Monday, a capital improvement budget task force finalized rankings of proposed community facilities projects, but the proposal for a new $16.3 million Central District police station didn’t rank high enough on the list. The City Council will ultimately adopt the capital budgets for 2014 and tentative 2015 in December. Residents remain undeterred.
“If it doesn’t happen this year, we won’t stop,” said Thoemke, a 45-year North End resident, whose family owns a sandwich shop on Rice Street. “We want to work with the police here. We really want our community to be safe.”
For the past decade, the St. Paul Police’s Central District has been housed on the first floor of the police department’s main headquarters at 367 Grove St., in a commercial area northeast of downtown. In 2003, the district moved out of a deteriorated building that it leased and shared with a heating/air-conditioning company near the corner of Rice Street and Arlington Avenue, according to Senior Commander David Mathison, who oversees the Central District.
The stay in the department headquarters was supposed to be temporary. For now, 6,000 square feet of space is the workplace for about 80 patrol officers and more than 100 people in all, Mathison said.
“We’re a little constrained here,” he said.
Officers have to write their reports in the roll call room since there isn’t a separate space for them to do so. The district doesn’t have rooms to interview suspects so they have to use the department’s facilities upstairs. Fingerprint kits and car seats have to be stored in a mechanical closet.
Besides the issues with space, the Central District’s larger problem is its isolation, Mathison said.
A proposed location is the former Sylvan Recreation Center site near Maryland Avenue and Park Street.
“We would actually be out in the residential area of the community instead of the warehouse district,” Mathison said.
Community members and the Police Department have said the move would translate to more visibility of police in the Rice Street area, helping community policing efforts and ultimately deterring crime.
Officials say the new location would help improve police response times to calls from the area and allow for better resident interaction with police. Besides features for officers, the facility is also proposed to include a community room and take advantage of existing ballfield and playground areas.
Community groups helped collect about 1,300 signatures from residents to show their support for the new station.
Thoemke admitted that it has been “an uphill battle” in terms of securing funding. But advocates such as City Council Member Amy Brendmoen say the community will not give up.
“We’re definitely going to keep pushing for it until there’s a Central District [station] in the North End.”