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February 8, 2007

Campus police set up shop in new public safety building

Pitt’s police department has settled into its home in the new public safety building on Forbes Avenue at Halket Street.

While Chief Timothy Delaney and the department’s detectives and administrators moved into the building in late January, Feb. 1 marked the first day for officers to officially turn out for roll call in the new building. The last major item to be moved, the communications system, was expected to be switched over to the new building this week. No downtime was anticipated, said Lt. Rick Parfitt.

The police department occupies 26,000 square feet of space on three floors of the four-story building. Environmental Health and Safety fills the building’s fourth floor.

Although the last of the boxes has yet to be unpacked, Delaney already has noticed some changes. “I’m seeing more people working out now,” he said, pointing out the new workout room. It’s a definite improvement from the cramped area that doubled as storage space in the old police headquarters, he said.

The new building was designed with practicality and convenience in mind. The third floor houses commanders. Administrators and associated offices are located on the second floor and the first floor is for operations.

On the street level, officers can enter from the parking lot, pick up their mail, use the locker room and fitness facilities and report for roll call all in the same corridor.

There are features built in to make the building convenient and comfortable for the public as well. An automated teller machine is located in the lobby — an idea Delaney said he borrowed from another department’s police station design. Surveillance cameras in the entry and a call button that connects to police dispatch add a measure of security for ATM users and after-hours building visitors. Large windows — with the subtle security feature of thick bulletproof glass — allow the public to see inside the street level and offer a welcome change from the department’s windowless former home in the parking garage at Posvar Hall.

Upstairs, the dispatch center, which also can serve as a command post in case of emergencies, is equipped with three dispatch desks and a bank of four 52-inch video screens that can be configured in a variety of ways to display information. Delaney said weather information, security camera video, dispatch and call screens may be the typical combination dispatchers will view on the wall in front of their stations.

An emergency generator for the building and backup phone system also are housed here.

“Campus safety systems such as digital video surveillance, the building access system and emergency dispatch are all connected redundantly to the high speed PittNet network to support 24-7 operation,” said Jinx Walton, director of Computing Services and Systems Development. “The University’s telephone system has been upgraded to enhance campus safety with the implementation of technologies to support 24-7 operations. In the event of a campus-wide emergency, the phone system at the Public Safety Building will operate independently, permitting this building to remain online as the key emergency contact center for the University.”

Delaney said he’s already receiving comments from nearby residents who are glad the station is in their neighborhood. “There’s the perception that the neighborhood is safer because of the visible presence of the police station,” he said. For those concerned that the station has been removed from a more central location on campus, Delaney said police mini-stations would remain at Sutherland Hall, Sennott Square and the Law building. When Ruskin Hall renovations are complete, a new mini-station will be part of the upgrade, Delaney said. “People who need the police will have a choice” of where to go, Delaney said.

The mini-stations aren’t staffed on a particular schedule, Parfitt said, but officers assigned to the surrounding areas and officers assigned to vehicles use them as a place to complete reports and follow up on calls and incidents. The stations are located in the lobby of Sutherland Hall, outside the law school beneath the stairway for the Forbes Avenue footbridge and near the Bouquet Street entrance inside Sennott Square.

Morale within the department is on the rise with the move to the more spacious building, Delaney said.

“It’s a more attractive, excellent facility,” he said. “We couldn’t have retrofitted a building to include what was needed.”

Some things don’t change, however. While Delaney was pleased to finally have an actual street address to offer when giving directions to the station —something that was lacking at the Posvar Hall garage location — he still finds people understand better when, instead of “3412 Forbes Ave.,” he gives a description instead. Now he just says “across from Arby’s” to elicit instant comprehension of the department’s new location.

A formal building opening is planned, Delaney said, but a date has not been announced.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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