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New station or not, police geography still shafts northwest Fresno

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Looks like I’ll be eating crow if “as the crow flies” is a wise concept for deploying police resources in Fresno.

The City Council on Thursday approved a five-year lease for the new Central Policing District’s headquarters. The plan is to move into a site of about 10,000 square feet in Manchester Center, at the corner of Shields and Blackstone avenues.

The city will get the space rent-free. Tenant improvements (locker rooms, meeting area, offices) are on the mall owner’s tab. The taxpayers’ only bill will be utilities and operations – about $4,000 a month.

I wrote about the complex backstory a couple of days ago. It’s sufficient here to note that my story mentioned a pleasant chat I’d had with Council Member Steve Brandau.

The restoration of a Central Policing District gives Fresno a total of five policing districts. Each district has a headquarters, or station house.

Brandau represents District 2, which covers Northwest Fresno. Chief Jerry Dyer’s Police Department has a Northwest Policing District. The boundaries for Brandau’s Northwest council district and Dyer’s Northwest Policing District aren’t exactly the same. But they’re close.

Now, the Northwest Policing District has its own station house. But it’s not really in Northwest Fresno. It’s located at the corner of Hughes and Dakota avenues.

Take a look at a map. Hughes/Dakota is in Central Fresno. If you’re a stickler about geography, then we’ll call it West-Central Fresno. But no one with any experience in this town would confuse Hughes/Dakota with Northwest Fresno.

To add insult to injury, the Northwest Policing District station house is no longer in the Northwest Policing District. It’s now in the Central Policing District.

My point to Brandau was simple: When it comes to station houses, how come Northwest Fresno gets no respect? After all, the other parts of town have their own station houses.

Let me emphasize again – my chat with Brandau was respectful as well as lively. He said he had discussed this issue with Dyer. He said the reconfiguration of policing district boundaries actually improves police services in Northwest Fresno, turning the station house story into a non-issue.

Brandau said to me: Will you write a second story if I get the Chief to prove this point on Thursday. I said I would, and I’d eat crow, to boot.

Here’s that second story.

It’s true, the Chief said, that Northwest Fresno as traditionally defined doesn’t have a station house. But, he said, the redrawing of policing district boundaries means the Northwest District is now considerably smaller.

The district was about 34 square miles in size. It’s now about 29 square miles.

The southern boundary of the Northwest Policing District used to be McKinley Avenue. The southern boundary now is McKinley west of Golden State Boulevard and Ashlan Avenue east of Golden State.

In the old days, a police officer patrolling at, say, Palm and McKinley avenues in the most southern part of the Northwest District had a long haul if her services were suddenly needed at, say, Herndon and Hayes avenues in the district’s most northern part.

Now that same officer, assigned to the southern edge of the Northwest District, will get to Herndon/Hayes in less time. That’s because the southern edge in this example is Ashlan, not McKinley.

Reduce the size of a service area and everything gets closer. A crow would get it. And so did I at Thursday’s council meeting.

I sent Brandau a text message after the vote: “Very well done. Excellent comments from you and the Chief.”

I won’t belabor the issue. But permit me one final thought.

Most of the district station houses and other high-profile police buildings (such as PD headquarters) are located in a relatively small area in Central and South Fresno. People like having a station house in or near their neighborhood. The reasons are obvious.

The exception to this geographic concentration of station houses is Northeast Fresno. The Northeast Policing District every bit as big as the Northwest Policing District. But the Northeast district has its own station house. It’s located at Teague and Cedar avenues – way up north.

As I listened to Brandau and Dyer discuss the irrelevancy of a station house in Northwest Fresno, I sneaked a peek at a map of the five policing districts.

The Northeast District’s southern boundary dips all the way to Clinton and McKinley avenues.

I thought: Why not extend the Central District further east, eating into the southern part of the Northeast District. Then the Chief could move the Northeast District’s station house all the way down to, say, Cedar and Shields.

The Northeast District’s station house would then be located within the Central District – just like the Northwest District’s station house. And the Northeast District would be smaller in size, just like the Northwest District.

Then the Chief could say to Council Member Lee Brand (who represents Northeast Fresno) the same thing he said to Brandau: Don’t worry about the lack of a station house – just think of the reduced response times if an officer has to drive the length of your district.

Then I thought: If Brand were to allow that to happen, his constituents would force him to eat something far more distasteful than crow.

That was my point all along.

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

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