Community members made arguments Monday for and against a new police headquarters on Tallahassee’s Southside. The plan to build a new public safety campus has garnered discussions about food deserts, community police relations, and the best use of public funds. But, the core of the argument for those on both sides of the issue seems to focus on one thing—safety.
The proposed location for the new police headquarters is on South Monroe Street near Orange Avenue. Police Chief Michael DeLeo says his department simply can’t stay in its current Seventh Avenue spot.
“The facility we are in now opened up in 1928 as Sealey Elementary. So you’re talking about a facility that’s over 90 years old, and certainly was not created or established to be used as a police department," said DeLeo.
And while attendees at Monday’s meeting understood the need for a new headquarters, for many the $60 million ticket price is just too much. Sylvia Hubbard is one of the community members who spoke at the gathering hosted by the Tallahassee City Commission. She says if that money is available it should be used for other things.
"Chief DeLeo, I really feel sorry for you not having enough space to teach your classes, but I feel even sorrier for the poor kids that have nowhere to go after school on the Southside of Tallahassee," said Hubbard.
But DeLeo says part of the plan is to provide a space for kids at the safety complex.
“We’ve got ideas of what we would like to put there we’ve talked about basketball courts, playgrounds. We’ve talked about Tempo, which is our youth engagement program for 16 year olds to 24 year olds who didn’t finish school and don’t have a job,” said DeLeo.
Others who live in the area raised concerns about what they would do if businesses are forced to move out to make room for the new development. Glenique Hampshire says she came to Monday’s meeting to speak for those who rely on those stores and offices.
"I want to stand for the mother with 5 kids that walks to Save-a-Lot, that buys her children's clothes at the CitiTrends, that goes to the pharmacy that’s also located there. And then goes down to the Well-care Staywell office and gets services to ensure that she gets Medicaid and other issues and services that she may need. All that is accomplished in that plaza and what I have not heard from the city is what’s going to happen when you tear that down to build this magnificent police department," exclaimed Hampshire.
Others, like community member Daniella Cross-Wilkins, are worried about increasing the police presence in their largely African-American neighborhood. Williams says she and her neighbors already feel targeted by police—especially following some of the high-profile conflicts around the country that have involved officers and African-Americans.
“Over-policing black communities has never in the history of this nation turned out favorable or fair for black people,” said Williams.
Fewer voices spoke in favor of the complex Monday. Those who did, like Jacqueline Perkins say they’re worried about crime in the community and are willing to try whatever it takes to takes to ensure the neighborhood is safe.
"The reason that that decision or that discussion was being had to have this facility on the southside is because some people asked for it. Nobody has stood up and said there isn’t any correlation." Perkins continued, "There’s no research out there that says if this facility is built on the southside that there is going to be a 30% reduction in crime. Cause we don’t know that, you know why? Because there has never been a facility being built like the one proposed."
The city will hold another town hall meeting tonight (Tuesday night) at the Walker-Ford Community Center from 6pm to 8pm. Tallahassee Commissioners voted in January to put plans surrounding the complex on hold until more community input could be gathered.
*Correction: The woman identified as Danielle Williams's name is Daniella Cross-Wilkins.