Hamilton police chief shows cramped office conditions


HAMILTON, Mont. - A decision by Hamilton voters last week to purchase the former National Guard Armory building could pave the way for a justice center in Hamilton.

It's still in the infancy stages, but if the plan develops the military facility would be remodeled and the Hamilton Police Department would relocate its offices there.

Police are currently housed on the bottom floor of Hamilton City Hall on Bedford and South Second Street.

The Armory is located on West Main Street.

Many have said conditions at City Hall are growing more cramped every year.

NBC Montana wanted to get a first-hand look at the police department's facility.

Police Chief Ryan Oster gave us a tour of the police department. It's located on the bottom floor of what was once the Elks Lodge.

"This building was never designed to be professional office," said Oster, "or as a police department."

Oster showed us the over-stuffed evidence room.

There is no air exchange in the small room. There is a slight odor of marijuana from drug cases.

There are burglary tools, computers and even broken windows stored here. There's evidence from a 1997 homicide case and some evidence even older than that.

"As the entire justice system has gotten busier," said Oster, "the process of being able to clear evidence and remove it has gotten slower."

He showed us where the transcriptionist works. It's a small room she shares with boxes and boxes of records.

Police share the floor with administration and city court.

The chief opened the only handicapped accessible entry door to the floor. It opens from the north parking lot. To get in somebody has to unlock it. It is secured because it is in direct line with city court.

"If you open that door you're looking right in on the court room," said Oster, "and the judge while he's on the bench."

He said the waiting room is often crowded with people who need to see police, pay traffic fines or visit administration for something as mundane as checking the city council calendar.

"You might have an individual who is a suspect in a partner family member assault waiting to go into the courtroom," he said, "and the other party might show up to get a restraining order."

He said police need to be able to separate them to enhance safety for everyone.

Oster said police need a second interview room.

He said there is only one restroom in the police department, and some officers end up using the building's public restroom.

Oster said there are 15 police officers and two staff members sharing space that is filled with "nowhere to expand."

The city is still in the beginning stages of planning for a justice center.

Voters approved the $1.35 million bond to purchase the Armory Building plus Claudia Driscoll Park adjacent to it and to pay for improvements to the park.

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