Converting the former National Guard armory on North Myrtle Street into a facility to house a number of police divisions has become personal to members of the Pine Bluff Police Department’s Training Division, and they’re about to see the fruits of their labor.
“We’ve got a few things to do to get it 100 percent complete,” said Lt. David Price, who heads the division. “We’ve gotten to know this building inside out and there has been a lot of sweat equity poured into it. I would hate to guess what it would have cost if the city had to pay for all the work.”
Price, Sgt. David DeFoor and Officer Richard Wegner are assigned to the Training Division.
The former armory was donated to the city when the military relocated to the Pine Bluff Arsenal. The building now houses the department’s patrol and traffic divisions, as well as the training, crime scene and evidence sections and vehicle maintenance.
The patrol and traffic divisions formerly were located in a rented building on Commerce Road, and before that were at the site of the former Jefferson County Nursing Home on West Seventh Avenue after moving out of the Joe Thomas Public Safety building downtown in the mid-1990s.
“The building on Commerce Road served our purposes at the time but we have so much room out here,” Price said.
The crime scene section was also located in the Joe Thomas building, then moved to a rented building, The training section has had space in the Joe Thomas building and in a house on Washington Street that doubled as a Neighborhood Watch house.
Moving the department’s vehicle maintenance shop has made it easier for mechanics to work on vehicles, especially since the department fleet is parked at the armory inside a secure fence. It was formerly located on West Seventh Avenue.
The new updated classroom features a bank of computers linked to the department’s server, as well as a new overhead projector dubbed “Elmo.”
“My wife was issued one for her job in the White Hall School District and she showed me all the features of it,“ Price said. “I thought it was pretty neat and thought we should have one and now we do.”
Wegner was setting up for a class on counterfeit money detection Thursday and placed a dollar bill on the machine to demonstrate its uses.
“We can point out features on the money that the Secret Service built in for security purposes without having to go desk to desk and manually show officers,” Wegner said, adding that the same projection system can be used to teach report writing and a number of other subjects, right down to showing recruits the working parts of their handguns.
“With the muster room right next door, we can actually have two classes going on at the same time, and we’ve done that in the past,” Wegner said.
Price said that since Chief Jeff Hubanks took over leadership of the department at the beginning of 2013, “we’ve upgraded our training.”
According to Wegner, the department conducted 117 individual training classes last year, some taught by department instructors and others by instructors from other agencies who were brought in to “offer a fresh point of view.”
Wegner said each time an officer signed an attendance sheet, they were counted, so a total of 2,464 individuals received some form of instruction, covering 4,327 man hours.
The crime scene section is also located in the new facility, with access through a large bay door that leads to an indoor garage that will house the department’s SWAT truck as well as a van for negotiators.
Also inside the garage area is a space for vehicles that need to be processed, surrounded by a chain link fence to secure the vehicles.
“We had a homicide in February where there was a vehicle involved,” Price said. “That was the maiden voyage, so to speak, for the fence area but it was set up so that the crime scene technicians could operate more efficiently. They have an exit on one side of the fence and can walk right into the lab area.”
Wegner said the enclosed garage space can also be put to use for training classes that require a lot of room, such as using a taser or physical training.
“We can put mats right down on the concrete and do the classes right here,” he said.
There are also offices for the patrol and traffic sergeants and lieutenants, as well as an office for the traffic officers to work on their reports.
“The Army left a lot of desks and cabinets in here and we repurposed them for our needs so it didn’t cost the taxpayers,” Wegner said.
With work almost complete on the armory, Price said plans are already being made to upgrade the facilities at the department firing range located near the Grider Field Airport.
“We had a lot of support from the business community and the utility companies and Steve Stevens, the head of maintenance for the city, has been invaluable in helping us get this building up and going,” Price said.
With the move of most of the department to the armory, the Joe Thomas Public Safety Center now contains the department’s administration offices, public relations and the detective division.