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Fresno's Manchester police station is great, but for one thing

GeorgeByline

I’m all set to eat crow in front of Fresno City Council Member Steve Brandau.

City Hall told me a bunch of stuff on Wednesday. I told Brandau that much of the stuff made no sense to me. I said I was going to write about my confusion.

Brandau said: OK, but will you write a second story when you’re shown to be wrong?

Yes, of course.

But my humiliation can’t begin until I write the first story. Here it goes.

Mayor Ashley Swearengin and Police Chief Jerry Dyer on Wednesday joined various officials at Manchester Center for a news conference. The topic: Explain the city’s plan to open a headquarters for the new Central Policing District within the historic shopping mall.

Dyer called Manchester “the perfect location.”

Swearengin said the city won’t pay a dime of rent during the five-year lease. The city’s only bill will be utilities/operations.

“We got a really good deal,” she said.

City Manager Bruce Rudd, a city employee for 40 years, grew up not far from Manchester. He said putting a district police station inside Manchester is a key step in City Hall’s revitalization efforts for Central Fresno.

The Manchester police station is a sign of “our commitment to bringing this neighborhood back to what it was when I was a kid,” Rudd said.

City Council Member Clint Olivier, whose district includes Manchester, said the Manchester station will be a crime deterrent.

“The cavalry is on the way,” Olivier said.

The only remaining hurdle is City Council approval on Thursday.

Here are some lease details, according to city records:

  • No monthly rent.
  • Estimated monthly expenses to the city: $3,440 to $4,300.
  • The station (8,000 to 10,000 square feet) will be home to about 100 patrol officers, detectives and cadets.
  • The station will have up to 100 parking stalls in a secure location.

* The mall’s owners (Omninet Manchester Center LLC) will make the following improvements to the station site: Large open briefing room that can handle up to 50 officers; an open bay that can handle up to 12 detectives in cubicles; eight offices that can handle two people each; a locker room for men that can handle 100 officers and includes two showers; a locker room for women that can handle 20 officers and includes one shower.

If all goes according to plan, city officials said, the new Central Policing District station could open by August.

Now, none of this was the source of my confusion. The creation (or restoration, to be more accurate) of the Central Policing District and the Swearengin Administration’s desire to put the district’s headquarters in Manchester have been bandied about at City Hall for months.

But I kept thinking during the news conference: Why are we really here?

Certainly the Mayor and the Chief are fond of public events with plenty of TV cameras present. And both Swearengin and Dyer have pushed long and hard for more safety in the Manchester area.

The new Bus Rapid Transit system will run along Blackstone Avenue in front of the mall. Manchester itself has seen better days, but the owners say a major upgrade is just around the corner. A nearby middle school made the news recently with its discipline problems. And a neighborhood along the mall’s northern border seems to get more than its share of violent crime.

The new station house and its officers will be busy. But, again, none of this is new.

Then something happened during the news conference’s question-and-answer period that further confused me. The reporters’ questions focused on the reaction of the Fresno Police Officers Association.

It seems that FPOA President Jacky Parks and his fellow officers are worried about the safety of their vehicles in Manchester’s parking lot. They’re also concerned about their safety as they make their way to and from the station inside the mall. And they’re concerned about safety inside the station since mall customers will be walking by at all hours.

Those are legitimate concerns. Fresno police officers face plenty of danger every day in the course of doing their jobs. All good citizens want only the very best for them. Swearengin and Dyer on Wednesday said they are aware of FPOA’s concerns. They said they are confident things will be settled to FPOA’s satisfaction.

In fact, Dyer said, the situation facing the Central District station house isn’t all that different from what’s facing the station houses at other policing districts in town.

I thought to myself: Are FPOA’s concerns (which somehow made their way to a variety of reporters before the news conference) a feint? Something to give a tired story a bit of conflict? Something to send reporters down a particular path?

One thing is certain: The FPOA issue generated the most sizzle.

I asked just one question. Chief, I said, what about the Northwest station?

You see, I figured Wednesday’s news conference was all about geography and politics, in particular the decline of Northwest Fresno’s political clout. I called Brandau because he represents Northwest Fresno.

My thinking went like this:

Fresno had five policing districts as recently as 2011: Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, Southeast and Central.

The Great Recession was hitting City Hall in full force at the time. The Chief consolidated wherever it would save money. One of those trims was eliminating the Central policing district and its station house (on Broadway, about a quarter-mile south of the heart of the Tower District).

Residents of the Tower District (its boundaries are in the eye of the beholder, but the district, without a doubt, is big enough to generate considerable political clout) never forgave and never forgot the Chief’s decision.

The Great Recession ended. City Hall’s finances improved. Restoring police services returned as a priority.

For a variety of reasons, violent crime throughout Fresno is now rising. Dyer, at a recent CrimeView session at police headquarters, directed staff to beef up the police presence in The Tower.

Dyer later attended a Tower District community meeting in the Heaton Elementary School cafeteria. More than 200 people showed up. Crime was Topic No. 1. Council Members Esmeralda Soria and Oliver Baines hosted the meeting. Their districts straddle The Tower. Soria and Baines said they’re working together to get more police patrols in The Tower.

Dyer recently ordered the Police Department’s mobile command center (the size of a large mobile home) to be stationed in a parking lot on Olive Avenue in the heart of The Tower. The mobile command center isn’t just for show – it’s operational 24/7. In essence, it’s The Tower’s very own station house.

Then came Wednesday’s news conference at Manchester Center. Creation of a Central Policing District means a reconfiguration of the boundaries of the four existing policing districts. Swearengin, Dyer and Rudd said a big part of the value of a high-profile police station house like the one coming to Manchester is the message it sends: Lots of police here, coming and going at all hours.

Another big value to such a station house in such a location: It’s a most efficient way to dispatch officers to trouble spots. Whether you’re talking about the delivery of soldiers or police officers, geography counts if you want to get them there in a hurry.

The new Central policing district is bounded by Highway 99 to the west, Belmont Avenue to the south, First Street to the east and Ashlan Avenue to the north (if I’m correctly reading the map provided at the news conference). Central is the most compact of the five policing districts.

It appears that the new Central policing district was took portions of each of the other four districts, but particularly from Northwest. Before the reconfiguration, Northwest and Northeast were the biggest districts by a considerable margin.

The Southeast policing district station house is on Cedar Avenue, near Butler Avenue. The Southwest policing district station house is in the Kearney Palms shopping center, on Fresno Street next to Highway 99. The Northeast policing district station house is on Teague Avenue near Cedar Avenue. The Northwest policing district station house is at the corner of Dakota and Hughes avenues.

Police Headquarters, of course, is on Mariposa Mall in Downtown. As we’ve already noted, the new Central policing district station house is in Manchester Center at the corner of Blackstone and Shields avenues. And the temporary station house for the Tower District is on Olive near Wishon Avenue.

That’s a total of seven Police Department structures designed to deploy officers and send a message of security and stability to a nervous public.

I took the map of policing districts handed to reporters at Wednesday’s news conference. I drew a star on the spot where each of these seven structures is located. There was a bit of guesswork, but I think I got close.

The Northeast policing district at Teague/Cedar is way up there in the map’s northeast corner.

The other six structures (four district station houses, PD headquarters, the mobile command center) are all within a rather tight circle in central and south Fresno.

The new Central policing district, of course, has the new station house at Manchester and the mobile command center in The Tower. The new Central policing district also appears to be home to the Northwest policing district’s station house at Dakota/Hughes.

I noted this to the Chief at the news conference. He said he didn’t think the Northwest station house was in the Central policing district. After the news conference, I took my map to Deputy Chief Pat Farmer and Lt. Joe Gomez to get their opinions. They said they couldn’t tell because the map was so small.

The chief, in response to my question, said the day may come when the Northwest policing district station house is moved further north. But for now, he said, its current location is a wise one. The reason: There’s a lot of crime in the Dakota/Hughes area.

All this was simmering in my head when I called District 2 Council Member Brandau. I was confused. Why are vast swaths of Fresno left without any PD station house? Why are Soria, Baines and Olivier able to get all these station houses in their neck of the woods? Why is there no PD station house anywhere near what is the true Northwest part of Fresno (and not “northwest” as defined on a police organizational chart)? Is the District 2 council member A-OK with this state of affairs, or is he simply lacking in the political clout enjoyed by Soria, Baines and Olivier?

I told Brandau over the phone: “I never thought Wednesday’s news conference was about Manchester. I thought it’s real import was Northwest.”

That’s what I was thinking. Brandau said I’ve got it all wrong. He said it makes no difference that the geographical part of Fresno that is truly Northwest has no PD station house. He said (if I heard him correctly) that, according to the Chief, the shrinking of the Northwest policing district to accommodate the new Central policing district means officers answering calls for service in the most northern stretches of Northwest Fresno will get there sooner.

I responded: Let me get this straight. A number of council members, the mayor, the city manager and the police chief all say there’s huge crime-fighting value to law-abiding citizens in having station houses/mobile command centers located in certain favored parts of Fresno. But such a crime-fighting station house isn’t needed in Northwest Fresno because there’s a special crime-fighting dynamic at play in that part of town, a dynamic that’s largely a mystery yet proven to be unworkable in any other part of town. And the council member representing Northwest Fresno is fine with that.

That’s when Brandau said he’d use Thursday’s council meeting to make reservations for my crow dinner.

I’ll eat it if necessary. But I’m bringing my map.

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

1 Comment

  1. George, I suspect that secret crime fighting dynamic Brandau was hinting at are the Sheriff’s Office and CHP. NW Fresno policing district is home to several large county islands that reduce Dyer’s workload by at least 25 percent. Granted, officers from all three agencies crisscross the area, but when paper has to be written, those other agencies write it when needed, not Dyer’s troops.

    The crime dynamics in NW are driven by the Hughes/Dakota area and Pleasant Avenue, the Shaw corridor neighborhoods west of Van Ness, Figarden Loop, and the neighborhoods west of 99. All thes areas have, generally, seen better days and were hard hit by the recession, just as the Tower District was.

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