Eagle editorial: Joint law-enforcement training valuable

Short resources and changed circumstances have cast doubt on where, when and how a new joint law enforcement training center will be built. Whatever they do, the city of Wichita and Sedgwick County must not let the uncertainty break up a 28-year-old training partnership that makes fiscal and common sense.

Sedgwick County Manager William Buchanan has recommended the county move the project from its capital improvement program to a “watch list.” That prompted Mayor Carl Brewer to say he’s ready to proceed on a city-only training center as part of the Heartland Preparedness Center at I-135 and K-96, where a new area facility and maintenance shop will serve the Kansas Army National Guard.

To his credit, the mayor values the long-standing commitment to put a $30 million city-county training facility at the site, once envisioned as the nation’s first homeland defense facility merging military and public safety operations. It’s been talked about since the 1990s, but gained momentum after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

However, Brewer’s idea of going it alone doesn’t reflect the fiscal or political reality at the city, which just stepped away from bonding a new Central Library anytime soon over concerns about the city’s debt load.

Nor does it account for how much the Heartland Preparedness Center already differs from the blueprint, which was for a facility to incorporate not only the National Guard and local law enforcement but also firefighters, county 911 communications and emergency operations, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and the Kansas Highway Patrol. County officials say that post-Sept. 11 security concerns at the federal level nixed connecting hallways and dual-use classrooms.

If that makes any civilian-military sharing of the complex more symbolic than substantive, the same cannot be said for the joint training that has been done at a former elementary school at 37th Street North and Meridian since 1985, when then-Wichita Police Chief Richard LaMunyon and then-Sedgwick County Sheriff Mike Hill proposed and set up a joint facility to increase efficiency and cut duplication.

It’s now prudent for the city and county to let their plans be guided by their resources and needs going forward, rather than insist on following through on an outdated and newly unaffordable promise.

Police Chief Norman Williams and County Sheriff Jeff Easter should keep working on a scaled-down joint center, perhaps without what would be a little-used auditorium.

The recent South Seneca standoff demonstrated how officers must collaborate under fire in the field – requiring the skills and expertise of the Wichita Police Department, the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and other south-central Kansas jurisdictions.

There’s no predicting when such crises will test the value of common training and seamless relationships. The only certainty is that they will, and that the officers who police and protect the community need to be as well-prepared for them as possible.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman