Westminster police moved last week into the first headquarters building the force has ever had.
The move into the renovated former Westminster Auto Parts store at 36 Locust St. brought city police out of the basement of the old armory on Longwell Avenue, where they had been housed for 12 years.
Growth prompted both last week's move to the new headquarters and the department's 1981 move from City Hall to the armory. The police had been housed in City Hall for at least 15 years and had gradually expanded into the basement and the first floor area now occupied by the council chamber.
Police Chief Sam R. Leppo said his officers are happy about the move. Noise from dances and basketball games in the first-floor gym directly above most of the Police Department offices was the most difficult problem with the armory offices, he said.
The 30-member force gained four officers July 1, a staff increase authorized by the council after a man was killed in a drug-related shooting in January on South Center Street.
"I'm surprised we've operated as efficiently as we have," Chief Leppo said, "particularly the criminal [investigation] people. Very seldom did they complain. They didn't say, 'I can't interview this person.' They just worked with the situation. I give them a lot of credit for that."
The City Council bought the former auto parts store for $250,000 in July 1992 and spent about $800,000 to renovate it. The action ended three years of debate on how to alleviate the crowded, noisy working conditions in the armory basement.
The new building gives the police about 12,000 square feet of space, double what was available in the armory basement. They will gain a room to process evidence, along with conference and gun-cleaning rooms. Officers previously had to clean their guns outdoors because of fumes from the cleaning fluids, Chief Leppo said.
In the new headquarters, dispatchers are separated from secretarial workers who deal with the public.
Chief Leppo said he plans to get double use out of the new training room. It will also be used for events such as awards for "Say No to Drugs" and seat belt safety programs.
The staff will also gain separate restrooms. Female employees have not been happy about having to hang a sign on the door when they wanted to use the only restroom in the armory basement, the chief said.
Architect Paul Clark used the white brick and some of the architectural features of the City Hall portico to link the new police building to nearby City Hall, said Jayson Thoemke, an architect with Colimore-Clark.
Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein, who chairs the council's police committee, said staff satisfaction with the new building is high.
"Everyone I've talked to is really delighted," she said.