Despite ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Milford edges one step closer to a new police building

Public hearing scheduled for Dec. 14; referendum in January

Emily Lytle
Dover Post

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Milford Police Chief Kenneth Brown decided to halt discussions around a new police building, saying, it "just wouldn’t be fair” to ask the public to support a referendum during a time of infinite uncertainties. 

That was more than six months ago, and now, the project is once again on the table. 

Milford City Council passed a resolution Oct. 12, which rescheduled the public hearing for Dec. 14. City Clerk Terri Hudson said the referendum vote will be scheduled after that meeting, likely for the end of January 2021.

The new 30,000 square-foot building and 4,000 square-foot maintenance building will be constructed on a new site directly across the street from the current Milford Police Department on Front Street (Route 14).

Since the original estimate, the cost of this project has increased by about 3% or $500,000.

The site plan for the new Milford police station at the corner of Front Street (Route 14) and Fourth Street.

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During a Sept. 28 committee meeting, Brenden Frederick of Becker Morgan Group said the increase to about $18.9 million is largely due to soaring costs of construction materials. Typically, large projects like this can see increases up to 10% with every year construction is delayed, he said. 

During that meeting, Finance Director Lou Vitola said they do not have an estimate for how much this project will raise the average resident’s taxes. Back in March, it was a $200 increase per year for the average homeowner, Hudson said in an earlier interview. 

Beyond the construction cost, time is ticking as the police department continues to face safety and space challenges in the old building. Just this year, Brown said the station needed major repairs to the roof and invested about $10,000 into a new air conditioning system for the dispatch area.

“These things are just constantly hitting us,” he said. “We just really need to get this done.”

The needs

In addition to creating more space for a force that has nearly doubled in size since the first station was built, Brown said there are serious safety issues.

Kenneth Brown, Milford's chief of police, wants his department to have the resources necessary to keep his officers safe and help them reach federal accreditation.

He said the biggest problem is a lack of a sally port, a secured garage-like building, where officers can bring a person who’s been arrested. The sally port helps prevent escapes while an officer is taking a suspect from a patrol vehicle to a holding cell.

In today's setup, police take defendants across a parking lot and through the station where they have access to all areas, including those with civilian employees.

Perhaps even more concerning is the risk defendants pose to themselves, Brown said. If they try to escape while in custody, they will either head toward Route 14 or the river with their hands still cuffed behind their backs.

He pointed out that just last month, a man died in Florida after breaking free from police and jumping into the bay.

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“The city is very much liable for these things,” Brown said. “We do everything we can to keep them from happening, but the city as a whole is not doing everything they can if they don't provide an adequate facility to do this work.”

In a time when police departments are facing heightened public scrutiny, Brown said it’s more important than ever that his department is also federally accredited.

One thing keeping Milford from accreditation is the requirement that the department separate juveniles from adults and men from women – not only visually, but by sound. 

“There’s nowhere in this building that you can go to separate by sound,” he said.

He added that the lack of accreditation raises insurance costs, as well as more importantly, not meeting standards expected by the public or government officials.

“They’re almost demanding that you be accredited," Brown added. "When your facility won’t allow you to do that, it’s sad." 

The department has made adjustments over the years, including converting a workout room into a locker room for officers and buying an old auto shop across the street to create more offices.

In the winter, they bring in blankets for days that don’t reach past 59 degrees, and in summer, they plug in as many standalone cooling systems as the electrical outlets will allow.

Now, Brown said their resources are stretched thin, and with the current timeline, he doesn’t expect to be inside a new building until 2023.

For more on the plan, visit https://milfordpoliceplan.com.