Men and women serving city residents as law enforcement officers should work in a clean, properly equipped and efficient building.
Citizens visiting the police station to file a report also deserve it to be well kept.
The Terre Haute Police Department needs an improved, modern facility as its base of operations. Debate and promises have gone on for years on that topic. Now, this November's municipal election campaign appears to be moving the police station's future onto the front burner among city priorities.
An election is no guarantee the situation will change. The police station's deteriorating state became a campaign issue in previous city elections. Unlike other recent mayoral races, though, this year's features three viable candidates. That gives the public an extra plan for the police station, and an extra layer of scrutiny for the proposals of the other two candidates.
And, all three have plenty of time before November to develop and explain their ideas for a better Terre Haute police station.
The need seems to be one point of agreement among the candidates — three-term Republican incumbent Mayor Duke Bennett, Democrat City Councilman Karrum Nasser and independent businessman and former city engineer Pat Goodwin. Flaws in the station are numerous.
A 2017 inspection by the Terre Haute Fire Department resulted in several fire code violations, including leaking fuel oil in the basement from a furnace no longer used and missing ceiling tiles caused by a leaky roof. Reports of black mold in the station came up in 2015. The station at the 1200 block of Wabash Avenue actually consists of three buildings wrapped together by a roof facade, and its six different roof lines have a history of leaking.
Police operations moved from City Hall to that former bank building in 2004 to gain space. That shift was intended to be temporary. A plan to create a new station arose in 2015, an election year, when a design was commissioned and the City Council and Terre Haute Redevelopment Commission approved financing. But the city's budget crisis, with a multi-million-dollar general fund deficit looming, forced a stop to the plan.
In 2019, the city's finances are generally improved, following a local income tax increase, adoption of a trash collection fee and close oversight of budget practices by the City Council. Still, the timing and extent of a police station upgrade properly remains debatable.
Last week, the mayor announced financing plans for a station after election opponents Goodwin and Nasser questioned whether the city is able to afford the project. Bennett said a 30,000-square-foot facility could be built at the site of the current station for an estimated $10 million. Funds from the downtown tax increment financing district (or TIF) would cover the cost, with revenue from the new public safety income tax enacted last year by the Vigo County Council as backup financing. Bennett said construction could begin later this year.
Goodwin suggested a move into a short-term location until city finances stabilize. Nasser, like Goodwin, emphasized the current station is inadequate. Both also said they support splitting some costs with the county by housing city police in the new sheriff's office to be located within the new county jail near Honey Creek Mall on the city's south end. Neither challenger proposes combining city and county law enforcement operations, though. City police chief Shawn Keen said, "The last thing you do is move the police department to the outskirts of the city."
The three-pronged campaign competition should draw out more specific proposals from the candidates, and voters should be able to weigh in at the ballot box. A resolution to the problem — whether that happens in the short term or long term — is needed.