The Police Station of the Future

Spring 2016
A perimeter greenbelt at the LAPD Rampart Station provides both a safety buffer and community park space. Michael Urbanek

Five factors are shaping designs for new police stations and other public safety facilities.

CALLS FOR CHANGES in law enforcement policies are making headlines, but many jurisdictions have been revising their law enforcement approaches for years. These changes often involve embracing new technologies, government reinvention and alternate enforcement methods with the goal of improving policing effectiveness, resource efficiency and public trust.    

In response, designers are creating new typologies for police stations and other public safety facilities. The public safety facilities of the future are being designed and constructed today, and are being shaped largely by the following dynamics:

Community Integration

Strong relationships among officers and the community members they serve has never been more important. Police stations are now expected to welcome community members with open arms and reflect the best of their community’s values and hopes. No longer glorified bunkers, public safety facilities must instead be beacons of safety that symbolically and physically act as the center of a community. They need to appear transparent, consider the cultural and historical context of their location and have the ability to be safe havens in crises.

Many new police facilities therefore feature a variety of publicly accessible areas. At the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Rampart Station, these range from informal spaces such as public gardens to more formal ones like meeting rooms that can be used by neighborhood groups. Involving the community in the design process has proven an effective way to ensure that project development is transparent, obtains true community buy-in and results in an integrated public asset. The Hamilton South Mountain Complex in Ontario, Canada, actually surrounds its police reception desk with school and youth liaisons, seniors’ support, crime stoppers and community service teams.

Technological Adoption

New technologies offer both opportunities and threats. Tablet computers and mobile communication networks increase officers’ abilities to stay connected in the field, while drones and new protective gear lessen the need for officers to be in harm’s way. Networked technologies enable quick data access and interconnected cross-jurisdictional problem solving. These elements require clever ways of developing a building’s program requirements that effectively accommodate flexible collaboration space, adaptable training locations, and versatile power and data systems.

interior of police station

Diffused natural light pervades the open office workspaces of the Lancaster Public Safety Facility in Lancaster, Texas, which houses the Dallas-area city’s police and fire departments.
Chris Cooper

On the other hand, ever-evolving weapon technologies and an increasing reliance on digital technology create ambiguous threats that are difficult to anticipate, but for which protection must be designed into a facility. New composite materials such as Kevlar panels and advanced digital systems allow security measures to be integrated invisibly into facilities. As many of these materials are quite costly, however, less expensive solutions such as thoughtful site planning, judicious use of masonry and careful placement of windows remain core design strategies, as evidenced at the freeway-adjacent LAPD Harbor Station.

Workplace Innovation

Public safety workers, like many employees, now expect their work to be more mobile and to involve a greater variety of activities. Officer location assignments can fluctuate on a day-to-day basis, while administrative staff typically perform multiple tasks in a single location, with increasing reliance on digital technology. Both conditions foster opportunities to redefine workplace design.

New police facilities now look like contemporary open office environments, complete with joint collaboration space and hoteling workstations. Project rooms provide the immersive environments needed to tackle complex problems. Unassigned plug-and-play workspaces allow police forces to reduce the total amount of space they occupy, an innovation being explicitly tested within the LAPD at its Metropolitan Division Facility, where many officers work day to day out of their vehicles rather than the building. Coupled with flexible space planning techniques such as benching, they can also help facilities absorb the workforce increases and decreases that are likely to occur over time.

Stress Reduction

Long work hours and high-stress situations can take a toll on officers’ physical and mental well-being. Their workplaces thus must be healthy environments that promote communication, boost morale and provide informal resting spaces. Interior light and air quality are crucial to employee health and productivity, while exterior green spaces offer areas of respite. Incorporating areas for physical training such as cardio, CrossFit, rope climbing and mat work not only improves an officer’s on-the job skills, but also provides much-needed stress relief.

Improved Efficiencies

Public agencies are being asked to do more with less, prompting creative approaches to providing effective law enforcement. Strategies to spur innovation and reduce obstacles are leading to intensified partnerships with communities (through Safe Streets, Neighborhood Watch and/or similar programs) and universities (for ongoing training). Cross-agency collaborations leverage individual resources to holistically address gang problems and terrorist threats as well as to create integrated public safety facilities housing police, fire and emergency departments, as has been done at the Lancaster Public Safety Facility in Lancaster, Texas. Many jurisdictions have begun turning to alternative delivery methods, including public-private partnerships, to help balance initial costs with long-term maintenance expenditures. For example, construction of all 18 facilities that comprise the Ontario Provincial Police Modernization Project utilized a design, build, finance, maintain (DBFM) model and was partially funded by a developer/maintainer that will receive annual payments over a 30-year period.

A high-performance facility offers one of the best ways to make the most of precious resources. High-performance design focuses on conserving energy, water and funds. It features right-sized buildings, efficiently laid out spaces, durable low-maintenance materials and adequate daylighting. Many of these characteristics directly relate to sustainability; all relate to resilient design and maintenance costs, through good times and bad — and all factored into the decision to incorporate renewable energy and pursue LEED Platinum certification at the LAPD Metropolitan Division Facility.

The five factors outlined above all speak to public safety facilities that acknowledge continuous change in policing, both now and in the future. The results are increasingly collaborative, flexible, healthy environments that balance civic pride with operational demands while leveraging scarce resources.