The state-of-the-art equipment and spacious, naturally lighted interior of the Kansas City Police Department’s new East Patrol Division and crime lab are impressive.
That helps explain why a large number of visitors stopped by during an open house last week to see the $74 million complex at 27th Street and Prospect Avenue.
About 1,000 people walked through the 118,000-square-foot campus named for Leon M. Jordan, a slain civil rights leader and former Kansas City police officer.
“I’ve never been hugged so many times,” said Maj. Joe McHale, who greeted the guests as the recently named commander of the patrol division.
The sleek new facility will be staffed with 130 officers. It was built with revenues created through a quarter-cent public safety sales tax, which voters renewed in 2010. The patrol building and separate crime lab sit where residents once lived in dozens of houses that were torn down from 26th to 27th streets and from Brooklyn to Prospect avenues.
Many people went to the grand opening because they saw it as an opportunity to reclaim part of their neighborhood.
That’s a reasonable expectation because the station will provide a community room for people to use as well as a gymnasium and computer lab, which will help bridge the digital divide in the long-neglected East Side neighborhood.
The crime lab, when it is fully operational and staffed, should be ramped up to tackle a backlog of cases and to provide Kansas City police and regional law enforcement agencies with the best crime-solving forensic science possible. Its array of well-equipped and brightly lighted work spaces was a big draw for community and school groups at the open house.
The new police campus sits on the western edge of the East Patrol Division, which has more than 82,500 residents spread over 45.5 square miles.
The station replaces the old facility at 5301 E. 27th St., which leaked when it rained, offered inadequate space for police officers and was falling apart. The East Patrol is the busiest in the city and has the highest homicide rate, McHale said. That’s a number he hopes to pull down.
The new crime lab will replace the cramped quarters currently at 6633 Troost Ave.
The biggest controversies about the project focused on its eventual cost — which soared more than $17 million above original estimates — and the number of still-viable and nonblighted houses that were removed to make it possible.
However, looking forward, the campus is expected to be a catalyst for the redevelopment of that historic part of the black community.
To see what’s possible, look at development around the headquarters of the Kansas City Health Department at 2400 Troost Ave. The building was finished in the late 1990s in a distressed part of the city. Since then new housing has been added and more improvements will follow.
Progress already is underway near the East Patrol campus.
City officials are taking steps to build a new grocery store and make other improvements to the Linwood Shopping Center a few blocks to the south on Prospect Avenue.
Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church is building a youth and family center across the street from the patrol station.
A rapid bus line along Prospect is expected to operate in the near future.
And the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s Big 5 program includes the Urban Neighborhood Initiative, designed to pump new life into neighborhoods running from 18th to 52nd streets and from Troost to Prospect avenues.
The patrol division right now satisfies a key goal: helping people in the surrounding area feel safe, if only because it is there. During the open house, police recruiters handed out literature to guests, seeking potential officers and candidates for civilian jobs in the department.
The open house seemed to be appreciated by the community. . Police Chief Darryl Forté should make this kind of public meet, greet and tour session a regular feature of the department at all patrol divisions as well as the recently remodeled downtown headquarters.
The chief and the entire department need to keep looking for the best ways to build stronger relations with the community they serve.