CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - A Chicago-based architect's study recently outlined Cape Girardeau's need for a bigger, much more secure police station, but at a hefty price tag.
One of the biggest reasons why the police chief is pushing for a new building is the security issues with and condition of the upstairs city jail.
Is it worth more of your hard-earned money to improve the jail and keep criminals behind bars and your streets safer?
I took a recent tour of the jail. Full disclosure—my husband works as a station commander for the Cape Girardeau Police Department.
When I met with city jail inmate Jreece Johnson of Sikeston, he called his stay downright disgusting.
Because it's so old, they have sides with the plumbing and with flooding from time to time, I told him. Have you seen any issues?
"Oh yeah," Johnson responds, "the feces it comes from one toilet to the next. You know, the floors stay puddled with water. So yeah, it's awful."
"Were you surprised at the condition of it when you got here?" I asked Police Chief Wes Blair of the jail.
"Absolutely I was yes," he responded.
Blair inherited not only a 40-year-old jail, but that recent architect's assessment citing the facility as too small and simply not safe.
"We're commuting sentences to let people out early just so that we can have enough space to put people on there that we absolutely have to have in jail for violent offenses," Blair admitted.
In 2011, Cape Girardeau city offenders saw a total of 202 days taken off their sentences just to make room. That number jumped to 551 days in 2012.
Lt. Barry Hovis oversees the jail and met with the man who led that recent assessment.
"Of all the jails that he had done these type of reviews of, that our facility was one of the least safe that he had been in since he'd been doing this", Hovis recalled.
Another big issue with the jail is that it's on the second floor of the police station. Inmates come in through a receiving area on the first floor to be booked. They are then walked through a very public area, past the station commander's desk and several administrative offices. If the inmate must be shackled, they are brought upstairs on a very slow moving elevator. Otherwise, they are walked up an open flight of stairs to the jail. Not only does this chief call this method unsafe, if for some reason an inmate ever escapes, he or she would have access to the entire building.
"How much longer?" Hovis asked an inmate through the bars of his cell.
"Until the 30th of next month," the man responded.
Hovis wants to point out the bars as another safety concern.
"Basically, they can reach out and grab people as they're walking by," Hovis said of the bars, "Whether it be another prisoner and or a jailer or security official."
"We've got to get the jail up to standards and to where it's a safe area for our employees to work," Chief Blair added.
Ok, now to that hefty price tag.
That architect's study puts a new station at between $12 and 14 million.
City Manager Scott Meyer says the council has identified a new police station as a top *unfunded* project--meaning it's not clear yet how they'll pay for it.
"We really have a pretty good idea of what the needs are for a new police station," Meyer said. "And so now we're refining that. And we're trying to look at ways of saving space and bringing the cost down. And then we're asking the public to come and tell us what they think and where maybe good locations might be."
If you want to see the police station for yourself, you'll have two chances.
The first of two open houses will be Tuesday, March 11 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The second happens Friday, March 14 from 10 a.m. to noon.
Then on March 18, a more extensive tour and review of proposed changes happens from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.