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Public Safety Complex Opens, Bringing Officials Under One Roof

Stan Jastrzebski

It’s been a long time coming.  That was the theme from almost every public official Thursday as Leon County's combined Public Safety Complex was inaugurated – even from those who won’t get to use it.

Tallahassee Fire Chief Cindy Dick noted she was retiring before she could take an office in the building and chided Tallahassee City Commissioner Andrew Gillum when he clapped.

“Everybody except for Commissioner Gillum is sad about it," she quipped.

But when the laughter died down, the 26-year veteran demurred…for a moment, anyway.

“I don’t know if those of you that are not in public safety can really understand what this really means, but in my opinion it’s the single greatest enhancement to public safety in our community yet.  And it will serve us for years and years to come. So, sadly I won’t be able to move in.  They planned the timing where my move-in week is the week after I retire.  I think Commissioner Gillum did that.  But I’m going to spend the rest of the day in my unfurnished office sitting on the floor, so that the next fire chief will have some bad vibes or some good vibes to deal with.”

The fire chief won’t move into her office and it’ll be some time before all the agencies set to be housed in the building fully occupy theirs, too. Eventually, the $47 million complex will be home to as many as 150 people at a time. 

Inside there’s an emergency operations center which look like telemarketing office – row upon row of identical desks, each with computer monitors and a telephone. There’s an office with an impressive conference table for game-planning emergencies.  And then there’s the room that conference table looks down upon through a semicircular bank of windows: Two stories of giant television screens that fill an entire wall.  On those TVs, dispatchers can monitor the 350 traffic signals at Tallahassee intersections, watch traffic cameras for incidents along Interstate 10 or pull up a radar screen to track an approaching storm.

But the most important part of the room might get overlooked.  It’s not what’s on the screens, it’s who’s watching them.

“People don’t care if you’ve got on a green suit or a blue suit or what have you,” says Leon County Sheriff Larry Stewart. “They want you to come.  They want the help when something happens.  And this is a step along that road.”

The road began, ceremonially, with the first call out of the various agencies, each of which opened one in a line of garage doors and pulled out one of its pieces of equipment in a siren-drenched receiving line.

Tallahassee Police Chief Dennis Jones told the assembled crowd getting that sort of coordination wasn’t always easy and some harsh words were needed to find common ground.

“The concern is ‘Okay, we do it this way in our shop and this is how we do it in this shop.’ So it’s a matter of combining those," he says. "And we all pretty much do it the same way, but there’s little things like do you use plain talk; do you use a ten-code? And our codes weren’t exactly the same so those were things that had to be worked out.”

It’s that kind of planning – meted out over anywhere from two to five decades, depending who’s asked – which resulted in the facility on the city’s east side.  And the planning even appears to extend to the center’s address on Easterwood Drive: It’s building number 911.