A regional public safety complex that could give rise to a new Buffalo Police Headquarters on the city's waterfront is one of several possibilities that Erie County is reviewing.
The 38-acre waterfront site catching the attention of area law enforcement officials is next to the Buffalo River and represents a small piece of what was formerly considered a site for a new Buffalo Zoo, before that plan was dropped in 1999. It is bordered by Louisiana, Miami and Ohio streets.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina favors moving headquarters from its current site because the building at Church and Franklin streets is old, inefficient and in need of extensive updates.
"I would support this if it is cost-efficient to the taxpayers and the consolidation of law enforcement enhances our ability to provide quality services to the community," Diina said.
Diina, however, says a local college campus might make a good location for a regional police training facility, which is part of the public safety proposal.
"It could be a good partnership to be located on a college campus, where they already have many of the facilities that we would not need on a full-time basis, such as a gymnasium, classrooms and library," Diina said.
Before in-depth consideration can be given to any particular site, a cost-benefit analysis will be conducted, according to Kevin J. Comerford, county Central Police Services commissioner.
The county plans to hire a financial consultant, he said, to determine how much money could be saved by consolidating central police services.
"We expect to have the financial feasibility study done by midsummer, and that will tell us what the potential savings is and how much we can spend," said Comerford.
A single public safety complex that would include a police training academy, the county's 911 telephone center, crime laboratory, computer operations and fingerprint checking could cost $30 million to $40 million, according to preliminary estimates.
At present, Central Police Services maintains operations in three buildings, all within blocks of each other in downtown Buffalo. In addition to that, the county Sheriff's Department, Buffalo Police Department and Central Police Services operate separate police training academies.
"This proposal would enhance public safety training for the entire county," said Gerald W. Schoenle, the county's director of law enforcement training. "We currently have to go to several different sites to complete police recruit training."
There is no cost estimate for a new police headquarters.
But the waterfront site has scored some high marks among police officials because it is large enough to accommodate both a county complex and a new city police headquarters.
To enhance the acceptability of that site, there is also discussion of opening it to the public through constructing two ball fields, a running track and possibly a community swimming pool.
Fitting into the equation of moving headquarters is a long-discussed proposal for the Sheriff's Department to take over processing individuals arrested by city police and detaining the prisoners in a county-run cellblock in the basement of City Court.
Such a move would reduce the amount of space needed for a new headquarter's building. Space demands would be further reduced by moving the county's 911 telephone call center and crime laboratory out of headquarters to a new public safety complex.
By moving headquarters, the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo would be in a position to make a bid for the corner lot where the police building is located.
Diocesan officials have long expressed an interest in acquiring the land to create an open space that would better showcase St. Joseph's Cathedral on Franklin Street. The cathedral is partially obscured from view to the north by headquarters.