Police station fails fire, handicapped codes

Police station fails fire, handicapped codes

When the Cumberland police station was built many years ago, only men served as police officers. Today, women are on the force, but are crowded into this small locker room, converted from storage space. Cumberland Police Chief John Desmarais shows the cramped quarters to a visitor. (Valley Breeze photo by Tom Ward )
But that's just the beginning of a long list of deficiencies

CUMBERLAND - Mayor Daniel McKee calls it the "Andy of Mayberry" police station, a reference to a 1960s sitcom about a rural America sheriff and his Aunt Bee.

But the comparison tells only half the story.

Yes, the Diamond Hill Road Cumberland Police Station is out of date, but worse, it's teetering on dilapidated in some of the basement areas.

And its often embarrassing structural deficiencies are putting the 44 uniformed officers in danger, says Chief John Desmarais.

Built as a single-story in 1960 and then extended upward a floor in 1989, today's station on Diamond Hill Road is a rabbit warren of hallways and doors that scream overcrowded at every turn.

Not a single toilet facility is handicapped-accessible and there's no elevator, making the entire second floor inaccessible to those in a wheelchair.

The station's shabby physical condition may be the lost issue of recent weeks as town leaders focused on questions raised about where to site a new one.

Still, McKee was saying this week that the "silver lining" of the siting question is the acknowledgement that the $12.5 million replacement station on November's ballot is a necessary expense.

The Valley Breeze tour of the station on Monday began on the second floor, where boxes of files are piled in front of the desk of Desmarais' assistant, Patti Tweedy. The records room, where they belong, is so jammed that the floor is actually bowed under the weight of stuffed file cabinets.

The wooden - yes, wooden - fire escape up here is behind a door that takes all of the chief's strength to shove open.

As Desmarais escorted The Breeze, he said several times he worried about revealing too much about the structural issues.

"This is a tough situation for me. I want to get out all the information, but not portray it as if this is "Fort Apache: The Bronx," he said, referring to the 1981 film.

Over the years, he says, he's invested in regular maintenance of the utilities and engaged the town's Public Works Department, but hasn't asked the Town Council for many facility upgrades.

He's reluctant to invest in a structure, he says, that he's hoping can soon be abandoned.

"But what do we do as a police station now?" he asks. "Do we put the proverbial lipstick on a pig?"

Just last week at the Town Council meeting he said the station doesn't meet the state fire code because it has sprinklers only in the cell block.

He was due this week before the Rhode Island Fire Safety Code Board of Appeal & Review in search of a waiver based on the town's current effort to replace the station.

If that fails, Cumberland will have no choice but to supply the $30,000 sprinklers.

Desmarais says residents attending the annual open houses haven't seen the worst problems because "we want to be positive."

But he says now that he's considering a public facilities tour. "My intent is not to give the town a black eye. I'm not one to point fingers, but there are real issues."

He adds, "I don't know what citizens will think if they come in here," but he says those who have toured universally tell him that it's worse than they expected.

"People say it looks good from the outside," he notes.

Those coming from outside of Cumberland often remark that they "thought Cumberland was a more affluent community."

He points to the main lobby area where the walls are a painted 1960s-era paneling.

Desmarais says he suggests to anyone who tours the whole station, "As you go through, think about viewing it from these three perspectives - you as a citizen of Cumberland, you as a citizen of another community, you as a person who works here."

McKee says that despite the controversy over the site, he's counting on residents to approve the $12.5 million bond, and says he's suggesting after all the Monastery debate of late to see a building committee do a townwide study of all available sites. (See related story Page 3.)

The financial timing is right, he says, because the town has paid off $20 million in bonds in recent years while borrowing just $3 million.

McKee said he fears the newly available funds from retired debt service will be absorbed by operating budget spending.

One of the most talked about problems at the station is the stairway from the basement "sally port" where prisoners are brought in to the second floor holding cells.

Three or four times a day, handcuffed, sometimes intoxicated, suspects are brought upstairs, a procedure that puts the officers in danger, says Desmarais, as well as the prisoner.

The sally port is narrow, just large enough for a cruiser, and cannot accommodate a rescue vehicle. That means that any prisoner arriving or leaving by rescue must be taken through the station's front door.

Heating and air conditioning are another example of the catch-as catch-can expansion through the years. Today, there are eight different furnaces, with two in the attic accessible only through crawl space. Others are tucked in closets throughout the station.

The summertime electrical bill for air conditioning is running $1,100 a month, he said.

Overall, the station's meeting rooms are small, and as a result restrict the size of gatherings, including enrollment in the popular Citizens Police Academy.

Highlights of the tour included:

* A second-floor cell intended to segregate female or juvenile prisoners from the men was taken over as an office, leaving an interior large closet to serve that purpose.

* The main floor houses the station's $80,000 computer server that's cooled by a cross-your-fingers window air conditioner, not the climate controlled equipment generally required for massive computers like Cumberland's.

* Lockers for the three women officers, not planned for in 1960, are inside a storage closet. "(The women) are treated like second-class citizens and that's not right," said their chief.

* Men and women share the same dimly lit shower room where the concrete wall is falling apart in chunks.

* The radio system that links to not only cruisers, but rescue and fire trucks and the town's highway trucks, are shoved together in a hot closet of the garage without air conditioning.

Directly overhead is the cell area and a network of plumbing that Desmarais worries is vulnerable to prisoner vandalism that could release water onto the radio system.

* Tiles on basement ceilings are covered in large flakes of paint that hang down as if designed as an overhead white fringe.

Cumberland Police Chief John Desmarais wonders: "We must be the only public building in the state with a wooden fire escape." (Valley Breeze photo by Tom Ward)
The wall is crumbling in the shower room Ð shared at different times by both male and female officers Ð in the Cumberland Police station on Diamond Hill Road. Mayor Dan McKee and town councilors are calling for a bond issue to fund a new public safety building, which would include a new police and rescue building. (Valley Breeze photo by Tom Ward )


The CPD deserves a new station, and serves our town well. That being said, I'll be voting NO because the site for this has yet to be defined. Acquire the rights to land in town, then put it to vote. The Monastery controversy aside, Chapel Four Corners is the WORST location to put any more development. It's a traffic nightmare as it is, and no one knows how to use the "brick" turn lane. Maybe we can build the new rescue station in the turn lane? Easy access to Rt. 114.

It's already been said that there is no other site than the monastery. Therefore I will have to vote NO too. I agree that the CPD does serve our town well and they really care about the people in this town. They should have a better facility but not on monastery land.

I am also voting no, even though I fully agree the current police station needs to be at least renovated, if not replaced. Until I am sure another location is secured other than Chapel Four Corners the safety complex will not be getting my vote. I live on a sidestreet off the strech between the Monastery entrance and Chapel Four Corners. I acctually drive past the 114 exit on 295 and go all the way to North Attleboro to take the back roads home, rather than sit through the traffic at Four Corners. I am sure that is part of their plan anyway.
Once that make the traffic even worst than it already is, then they can say the have to put in a road to allivate some of the traffic issues. If the current station is in such bad shape they should quit wasting time pursuing the Monastery location.
They do not need 10 acres. Who are they kidding? At one of the meetings, one of the councilmen mentioned he was happy to hear from our youth. Don't they know this business that they can just admend the Monastery's Ordinace is just demonstrating to them that the law is meant to be broken.


I also agree 100% that a new station is needed and have the utmost respect for Chief Desmarais and his opinion. However, the current conditions at the station did not happen over the past year...it has happened over MANY years. I blame McKee and all Town Council members who have served over all those years for not coordinating a plan to ensure a placement. Yes, there were years that the Town could not have afforded to do it. But that does not mean that a plan could not have been developed and debated over that time so that all that would have been left was for an educated question be to placed on the ballot. Town leaders can look at debt service due over coming years and can know when it is possible to take on new debt with minimal impact on tax rate. The Chief and all the officers were failed by our town leaders who are elected and charged to undertake such planning. Now it is back to the drawing board to determine what is needed and where to place it. It may be necessary to have a structure strictly for police in one location and rescue in one or more locations by improving and/or expanding current facilities. Where there is a will there is a way.

Brian Kelly

"Replacement".... Not "placement"....sorry

Brian Kelly

Regrettably, for our hard working officers who deserve better, the lack of timely and comprehensive plan means a no vote for every the member of my household.

A few years ago, most citizens who voted for consolidation of the fire districts did so thinking there would be significant savings to be realized. In the end, we got some last minute poor McKee/Pearson plan that failed to realize that goal.

Many of us wish that history not repeat itself with an ‘estimated’ $12.5 million on the line and no longer trust town government when they take a singular approval of a referendum and turn it into a mandate for *their* vision. Sorry, not this time… Simply show us a full and comprehensive plan and then we can have a vote to appropriate the funds. Why wasn’t this on the ballot two years ago if conditions were so bad?

I am also voting no on the proposed $2.5 million dollar road-paving bond if it includes one inch of paving in the lovely Colucci Estates off Little Pond County Road. Why improve a road that only serves to raises the property values for a few select homeowners while we treat our police officers as second class citizens and continue to underfund their pension plan? (Those homeowners should be suing their realtors et al for selling them properties from a company whose poor performance and fiscal condition was widely known with a modicum of research.)

Moreover, why should we pay principal and interest on a bond when we could easily use a tiny fraction of that money to fix the showers and make other interim accommodations for our police officers? Due to poor planning and singular vision, it is likely going to be another five years before the town can study potential locations, resolve the location of the new safety complex, and then plan/permit that site, before finally constructing a new building.

Too many times now, I’ve seen their tactics. Has anyone else seen it or am I just paranoid and cynical? Instead of planning a project in a timely fashion that would make financial sense, they wait until it’s an emergency and then the plan is to hastily “throw money at it”. These pictures from inside the police headquarters look like they were taken in some third world country, not in the majestic and stylish community of Cumberland, RI! Am I the only one that sees this as a ploy to “scare” us into prematurely approving a haphazard and undetailed plan? It’s obvious that most everyone agrees that the current state of the police station needs to be addressed. But, instead of formulating a plan for the required work, the priority effort is in securing the funds…FUNDS FOR WHAT? Does anyone have any idea of what the true cost will be? I don’t! Maybe the priority should be to figure out what is needed first, then where the “complex” will be best situated to serve the town, and THEN how much it will cost. Right now, this just sounds like another good plan to fleece my pockets. Don’t you remember seeing this kind of backdoor deal the last time?...and the time before that? …or is it just me dreaming all of this?

While our town officials play politics and try the pull another fast one on the taxpayers the only people who suffer are all of the officers and other staff. These are the hard working individuals I feel sorry for but I agree we need to vote "no" until the politics stop and a real site is found.
Again, the Monastery may have been the only 10 acre site but to build a new police and rescue building we don't need a site so huge just a few acres is all the is necessary but that is not what our town officials want to do. So I say to them forget the idea of trying to put a new town hall, fire station and police/ rescue site all on one piece of land in a big complex when there is no real need for them to be located all together and especially at chapel four corners.
Sit down and find a few acres near there to give just the police and rescue officers their new building and then the whole town will support you.
In my opinion, a new town hall should be located somewhere along Nate Whipple highway which is closer to the geographical center of Cumberland. Wouldn't it be nice to have the July 4th parade go right by town hall?
We need leaders with real solutions.

The lack of planning effort and capability with the McKee administration is on full display again. They saw the issues with the police station years ago, but neither the administration or the town council made an effort to pull together a plan...or we'd be talking about that plan in conjunction with bond to fund it. The police deserve a station that meets their needs and we ought to be able to figure out how to get that done for them. The tax payers deserve a plan before approving the bond/budget. These are not breakthrough ideas, and its how basic business or governmental operations run.

I'd like to see the town council organize a few different proposals, complete with budgets and plans as to where we can locate a new station. Perhaps they need to bring in some outside help to drive this as I don't believe we have these resources within the administration,and I would rather pay some money upfront to get this done right, then to see $12.5m turn into $20.5m and nobody happy with the outcome. Personally, I would check with URI, a land grant University established to lend expertise back to RI communities, who has a school full of civil engineering, public administration and business planning professors/students.

The manner in which the government in Cumberland conducts its business is a drag on this community, and it needs to change sooner rather than later for us to move forward.

Joe DiOrio

The police will have to suffer a bit longer, and no one is to blame more than the outgoing mayor and town Council.

Instead of all the effort and tax money spent on his Charter school, serious renovations could have occurred at the station.

Until a well thought out plan; is brought forth, only then will I consider spending the money and voting yes.

Also, has anyone looked into buying that desolate, vacant land across the street from Cumberland collision? I'm sure if the right amount is offered, the owner might be willing to sell. Not sure of the exact acreage, but that looks to be large enough.

There is nothing one can feel good about then to be vindicated.

Such is how I feel today with ALL of what is being said and written as to the Silver Spoon Fed McKee.

It is a well-known fact that I DESPISE him and for many, many, many a good reason that I will not get into here.

That said the citizens of this community to take a long hard look at the amounts of money spent by this administration on "Quality of Life' issues & Infrastructure' vs. the millions, and I mean millions since 2000 (a lot of it needed - STILL) on our schools, educational system and Danny Boy McKee's precious Mayoral Academy that is costing this Town a fortune vs. ProJo's erroneous rebuttal of this in Political-Fact as stated by current Secretary of State Ralph Mollis.!

Is it no wonder that the Police Station and so much else is in the state of disrepair that we are now learning!

It should be obvious, now, to one and all...that overall McKee has proven himself, OVERALL, to be a financially irresponsible beyond dispute!