New Bethel police station brings modern features to department

by Angela Denning-Barnes on June 26, 2013

Chief Larry Elarton stands in front of the new station with Assistant, Kajena Baty.

Chief Larry Elarton stands in front of the new station with Assistant, Kajena Baty.

The Bethel Police Department has officially moved its headquarters from the heart of downtown to Blueberry Subdivision. It’s a quiet new spot, just the wind and few birds fill the air when I arrive to tour the new facility. A three story building and separate garage sit on the tundra, donated to the city by the federal government, along with a two acre plot. It used to be an old FAA house that’s been converted to fit the department’s specific needs.

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It’s more centrally located, says Chief Larry Elarton, who is here to give me the tour. He says it’s closer to the far-flung subdivisions of Larson and Kasayulie. And he says it won’t affect their response time to other parts of town because they’re not responding from headquarters anyway.

“Normally, the patrolmen are out patrolling, so it all depends on what part of the city they’re in anyway,” Elarton says.

What is changing is pretty apparent. All you have to do is look at the size of the building, which is two and half times the old one. Inside, not very much resembles the old building except being greeted by the same dispatcher near the entrance.

Dispatcher, Debbie Stonecipher, works at her desk in the new police station.

Dispatcher, Debbie Stonecipher, works at her desk in the new police station.

“Go ahead Bravo 10,” says a middle aged, blonde-haired woman to a caller.

Debbie Stonecipher has been a dispatcher for about 5 years and she appreciates her new office furniture.

“They’re nice, convenient, modern,” she says.

Actually, they’re very modern. The desks, which are covered in computer screens and other equipment, can rise with just a push of a button. So, if Stonecipher wants, she can stand up to work during her 12 hour shift. There’s a sink and a separate bathroom nearby all geared towards keeping staff near the dispatch phones and radios at all times.

The main floor also includes a training area, something the department never had before. There are tables for classes, a smart board on the wall, and another screen called a Prism Firearms Simulator funded through homeland security.

“It’s like a giant firearms video game,” Elarton says. “So, it’s pretty cool.”

Making our way up to the top floor, you find the administrative offices. Lt. Andrei Achee is working at his desk. He was in the old building for 23 years and says it didn’t help their recruiting efforts.

“They see an old dilapidated building,” Achee says. “If they come in the winter time they’ll see dispatchers wearing gloves and typing because there wasn’t enough heat in the building.”

Dispatch greets visitors at the main entrance.

Dispatch greets visitors at the main entrance.

Down another hall and through a door is an elevated walkway, on the second floor.

“And it’s covered.” Elarton notes.

We cross the bridge to the second building which includes a defensive tactics training area. It also features a large workout room, and below, a garage, where patrol cars can be kept warm.

A second outdoor walkway leads back to the main building on the ground floor into a patrol area. Besides a new, more secure evidence room, there are also holding cells, something Elarton says the department has desperately needed.

“While nobody likes to be sitting in a cell, currently if you only have two officers on and their trying to interview 20 witnesses, and 10 of them are trying to say this guy did it and you’re trying to figure out what happened, and if you take custody of them and put them in the jail, you can’t get them back,” Elarton says. “Here, we can kind of slow it down, take some time and make sure we’re getting some justice done for everybody.”

Even though the facility is significantly larger than the old one, running it will be cheaper. It has its own well. LED lights are in every room and Elarton says they’ll save on heating bills too.

“Unfortunately, at the old PD, we had two boilers, we had a toyo stove in the back, plus the heat loss was so severe that we had to have electric heaters in every office,” Elarton says. “The building was challenged, to say the least.”

The old Bethel police building was used for over 40 years. The city is still considering what to do with the remaining structure.

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