However strained the relationship between Sedgwick County and the city of Wichita at the moment, both urgently need a new joint law enforcement training center.
Recruits for both the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office and the Wichita Police Department have trained in a former elementary school at 37th Street North and Meridian for 30 years – 25 years longer than anyone anticipated.
The roof leaks. The water is undrinkable. There are problems with heating, cooling, sewage backup, asbestos – you name it. Discussions about a new site have been going on since 1999.
Yet the proposed Sedgwick County budget for 2016 includes a 12 percent cut, or $350,000, for a new center. One of the “trade-offs” linked to the commission’s new goals, that reduction would put the county’s total commitment to the new joint facility at $2.65 million.
But as City Manager Robert Layton told the Wichita City Council last week, $2.65 million “would not be sufficient to fund any of the options that we’re currently looking at.” He estimated the needed city-county funding at $7 million to $10 million.
It’s more disconcerting that county commissioners are going through their own request-for-proposal process for sites that might serve law enforcement training.
“They didn’t offer us input into that RFP,” Mayor Jeff Longwell said in the council workshop last week, expressing concern that the county’s process may not reflect the extensive work already done by the city and county.
Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter told The Eagle editorial board Monday that a new training center is “the No. 1 priority” from his perspective, and that “it’s not an option” to split the training of Sheriff’s Office and Police Department officers. “We need to be training together. Period,” Easter said.
Apart from whatever the county’s RFP turns up, the ideas under consideration are:
• Taking over and remodeling 70,000 square feet at the current Wichita Southeast High School, which will be vacated for the new Southeast scheduled to open in 2016 near Pawnee and 127th Street East.
• Leasing and renovating space at the Kansas National Guard’s Heartland Preparedness Center at K-96 and I-135 (where the city and county originally had proposed to build their own $30 million training facility).
• And moving into a building on Wichita State University’s new Innovation Campus, in a partnership with WSU’s criminal justice program.
From the start, a joint city-county academy was meant to increase efficiency and avoid duplication. It has prepared both jurisdictions’ officers to work the metropolitan area, apart and together as needed. Now, a more modern training facility also would help with recruitment, signaling the professionalism and tech-savvy of local law enforcement and ensuring both the city and county will have the officers they need to serve public safety long term.
The overdue project cannot afford any further delays due to money, politics or both.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman