When work to plan and design renovations and additions to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary’s headquarters and annex in Fort Townshend started, officers were among those who were consulted to assess what was needed.
A member of the force since 1979, Chief Robert Johnston said he is well aware of how those needs have changed over time and will continue to change in the years ahead.
With work at headquarters almost completed and a formal opening ceremony scheduled for today, Johnston says the needs of the police force have been addressed in the revamped building.
A guided tour of RNC headquarters held Tuesday offered a look inside its offices, storage areas, garage space and other areas. The first two phases of the three-phase development project cost approximately $42 million.
When the RNC headquarters building opened in 1980, the RNC was responsible for only St. John’s and had approximately 200 officers and a small pool of civilian staff members.
“Today, we police the Northeast Avalon, Corner Brook and Labrador West, and policing has become more complex,” said Johnston, seated in his new corner office across from the annex. “We have over 410 police officers and 135 civilian employees, so we’ve grown exponentially in size, but what’s required of us has changed as well.”
Advances in technology related to information storage and crime-scene investigations have also advanced considerably and were accounted for with respect to the redevelopment of headquarters, according to the chief.
The redeveloped headquarters offers three times as much office space as the old building. The gymnasium was converted into four floors of offices. An expansion created two storeys with 20,000 square feet of additional office space.
Citing an example of how officers helped with the planning process, Johnston discussed the size of lockers used by patrol officers. Feedback suggested lockers needed to be larger to accommodate uniforms and gear. Lockers used by officers now also have built-in ventilation that can dry damp clothing.
“These are small, practical things, but they’re very important to the front-line police officers,” he said. “We’re taking care of the small stuff because we consulted with the people that are actually doing the work on the ground.”
In the forensic identification division, laboratory space doubled and new equipment was obtained to help with investigations.
Const. Cindy Crocker said the division’s old office was not an ideal work environment. The division’s office space, property room and laboratory are now located in close proximity to each other.
“We have tons of exhibits, so it’s really convenient that we can now just fire them all in there without having to cart them across the parking lot or down three flights of stairs,” said Crocker. “Where we are now is more central.”
Improved proximity to equipment is a welcome feature for the explosive disposal unit.
“Before, some of our equipment was actually stored outside,” said Const. Mitch Rumbolt. “So now … our office is here and literally as long as it takes us to change and grab a set of keys and hop in the truck, we’re gone. The design of the building has greatly increased our effectiveness and efficiency in that regard.”
Director of information services Kim Harding said the RNC has approximately one million records on file — half a million electronic records, 100,000 paper records and 350,000 records available in both formats. Some were previously stored off-site, but now they will be kept in a secure and better-controlled environment. Those storage areas include fire suppression systems, humidity controls and substantial security protection mechanisms.
The RNC’s needs when it comes to storing records have changed over time. With that in mind, a new data centre for electronic records was created in collaboration with the office of the chief information officer.
“We designed and modelled it on the national standards required for any data centre-type environment,” said Harding. “This meets all the needs of making sure that our information is protected and secure.”
The redeveloped building also offers additional amenities to four-legged RNC members.
“We’ve got a little more space,” said Const. Dee Edison of police dog services. “We can keep our equipment in here. Before, pretty much everything we had was in our trucks with us, riding around. We can wash our dogs (and) we can do basic first aid on them, which we didn’t have the capability (to do) before. Most of the time, the dogs are working in the nighttime. … The vets aren’t open, we’ve got nowhere to wash them and do that stuff. Now we can do it all here.”
Work on the annex — the original home of Memorial University many decades ago — is underway in Phase 3 of the almost $60-million project. Johnston expects work on that site will conclude in approximately 18 months. It will have a daycare centre, and lecture rooms and computers labs to be used for training purposes.