City officials and community leaders gathered Tuesday afternoon in Central Fresno to pitch one of my favorite story hooks – geography.
The new Central Policing District station was officially opened with the traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The station is on the second floor of Manchester Center, at the northeast corner of Blackstone and Shields avenues. About 80 officers will work out of the 10,000-square-foot facility. There will be secure underground parking, a first for the department.
The Central Policing District is bounded by First Street to the east, Belmont Avenue to the south, Golden State Boulevard to the west and Ashlan Avenue to the north.
There’s a lot of backstory to this new station. One thread is the demise of the old Central District five years ago as part of budget-cutting imperatives during the Great Recession. Another is the uptick in crime, a trend afflicting cities across the nation. There are the high hopes of Manchester Center’s corporate owner for a profitable rebirth of the venerable indoor mall. Finally, there are the Mayor’s equally high hopes for a reinvigorated Blackstone Corridor.
These themes have been thoroughly debated in the public square. Maybe that’s why Tuesday’s speakers confidently compressed their remarks. Council Member Clint Olivier, who represents the Manchester Center area, neatly summed up the event’s basic message: “Help is on the way.”
Others had more to say.
“This is a historic day for the Police Department and the city of Fresno as we officially open the Central Policing District station here at Manchester,” Chief Jerry Dyer said. “This is a long-time coming, and something that is near and dear to my heart, having worked in the Central District station when I began my career.”
The old Central District station was at Broadway and Elizabeth Street, about a quarter-mile south of the heart of the Tower District. The place was once a firehouse. The police moved in during the mid-1980s. It was to be a temporary adjustment until a more permanent home was found.
“People got used to us being around,” Dyer said.
The permanent Central District station was never built. The cops made do with the old firehouse until 2011 when the Central District was eliminated with a stroke of the Chief’s pen.
That meant the other four policing districts grew in size (affecting response times). That meant Central Fresno residents lost the emotional security of having a permanent police station in the area and the visual warning it sent to the bad guys. That led to unhappy residents and the council members they elect (the latter being District 1’s Esmeralda Soria and District 3’s Oliver Baines in addition to District 7’s Olivier).
“The benefits of having a district station here are many,” Dyer said. “The increased presence of officers working out of this center will serve to decrease crime in and around Manchester Center, in particular some of the more challenged neighborhoods that are nearby. And it will certainly increase the feeling of safety that people have as they come to Manchester Center to shop. Perhaps most notably, the 71,000 residents who live in the new Central Policing District will also see significantly decreased response times to emergency calls for service due to the concentration of officers that we have in this district.”
Manchester Center’s owner, Omninet Capital, built the new station site at its expense. The city pays no rent. The only monthly expense is common area maintenance fees.
Dyer thanked Ben Nazarian, Omninet Capital’s managing partner, for delivering such a good deal to taxpayers.
Nazarian “made a promise, kept his promise and he went above and beyond our expectations in terms of this project and its build-out,” Dyer said.
Swearengin said the new Central District station is in the perfect location.
“This is not just about the enhanced public safety that we’re going to see in this area that so desperately needs it,” Swearengin said. “It is also a symbol of the revitalization and the comeback that we’re starting to just get a glimpse of along the Blackstone Corridor.”
One of the signature pieces of that comeback is construction of the Bus Rapid Transit system. Take a walk along Blackstone – you’ll see that work on infrastructure for this new public transit service is far beyond the “glimpse” stage.
“This is what’s so exciting about this moment – all of the pieces coming together,” Swearengin said. “All of these resources are coming together in a 10-square-mile area to make a difference and begin to lift the center of our city.”
It was this part of the Mayor’s statement that inspired me to ask what turned out to be the event’s only question from reporters. The question was addressed to Dyer.
Fresno now has five policing districts: Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, Southwest and Central. Fresno is about 112 square miles in size. The Central District covers less than one-tenth of Fresno’s area.
The Northwest District station is at Hughes and Dakota avenues. That intersection is within the Central District’s boundaries. Dyer has plans to move the Northwest District station further north, but there’s no firm timeline on the change. That means the comings and goings of Northwest officers from their station will continue to be a reassuring sight to residents of what is now a distant corner of the Central District.
The Central District’s west boundary is Golden State Boulevard. There’s quite a bit of Fresno to the west of Golden State – Roeding Park, for example. Central District officers as part of their routine patrol duties won’t have to worry about that part of town.
Dyer has already made plans to open a satellite station on Olive Avenue near Fulton Street, in the center of the Tower District. Here, too, the comings and goings of officers at all hours will be a reassuring sight to residents. This satellite station is also in the Central District.
And now we’ve got the new Central District station up and running. It’s located on what could be considered the eastern edge of the Central District, less than a mile from First Street (the Central District’s eastern boundary).
You don’t have to be a veteran police reporter to know that Central Fresno east of First Street has many crime challenges. Much of this area is quite close to Manchester Center, yet is outside the relatively small Central District (which soon will have three district or satellite stations within its boundaries).
This area east of First Street, between Ashlan and Belmont, is covered by the Northeast and Southeast policing districts. The Southeast District station is next to the Hanoian shopping center at Cedar and Butler avenues, far to the south. The Northeast District station is near Cedar and Teague Avenue, far to the north.
My question to the Chief: Might the Central District station’s officers end up providing a lot of service to residents on east side of First Street?
Dyer essentially said yes. When emergencies come, he said, cross-area dispatch is standard practice.
That answer came at the end of the ceremony. The Chief gave a better answer during his opening remarks, before I’d thought of the question.
The new Central Policing District station, Dyer said, “is right in the heart of where we want to be in terms of being around people.”