Police Stations: Fortress or Visitor Friendly?

Police Stations: Fortress or Visitor Friendly?

By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D

If you’re like me, you hate trying to talk through a slot or even a microphone to communicate with someone behind a sheet of glass, whether it is at a bank, a ticket booth, or in the lobby of a police station. Unfortunately, it is a fact of life that the people working behind those prison-like barriers deserve protection.

While victims and witnesses deserve to feel safe and comfortable when they come to a police station, security concerns can be intimidating. Perhaps, once inside, there are inviting spaces but barriers to attack are a necessary part of police station design.

The homey image of a precinct station housed in brick buildings with an outside globe with the word Police stamped on it is still a reality in some places. In those iconic relics, the citizen walks in to see the desk sergeant behind a massive, raised wooden desk waiting to receive your report or complaint. Perhaps the theory is that with armed officers in the area, safety is ensured. That is wishful thinking.

Brandon Stine drove his truck to the Lewistown barracks of the Pennsylvania State Police in Juniata County, started shooting at patrol cars, and shot and killed Trooper Jacques Rougeau Jr., 29, and wounded Lt. James Wagner, 45.

A woman waiting in the lobby of the Westborough, MA police department set fire to clothing in a donation box, then fled. She was later arrested. Damage is estimated at $250,000.00.

A man in Youngstown, OH walked into the lobby of a police station and demanded to see the Chief. When asked to leave, the man refused and attacked the desk officer and struggled for the officer’s gun before being subdued.

A 50-year-old man is accused of driving his car into the Eaton, Colorado Police Department and throwing rocks through the station’s windows before he was arrested after crashing his car.

In Independence Township New Jersey, a car crashed into police headquarters after leaving the scene of crashing his vehicle into a private home. He was arrested on multiple charges after blasting Guns n’ Roses and pointing his fingers toward the ceiling of the station.

In Warren, Michigan a 29-year-old Warren man is receiving a mental health evaluation after entering Warren police headquarters Thursday morning carrying a large sword and allegedly making verbal threats to the front desk officer on duty.

Another police station attack occurred in Bristol, Connecticut. Suzanne Laprise drove to the police station and opened fire against bulletproof glass at the desk officer apparently hoping to be shot by police in a suicide attempt. She was subdued with a less lethal weapon with no further injury.

Benson,  Arizona police arrested 47-year-old William Stephen Bagger accused of setting off a small homemade explosive outside the department, possibly as retaliation for a recent arrest.

An Oakland, CA police sergeant in the Internal Affairs division drove up to City Hall to begin his shift when a man with a pistol began shooting at the officer, who returned fire, killing the shooter.

Alarmingly, all of these attacks occurred in 2023 alone. The riots sparked by the death of George Floyd in 2020 saw attacks on police stations around the country. In Aurora, Colorado, rioters chained exits to a police station, trapping officers inside for seven hours. Later, incendiary materials were found indicating a plot to set fire to the building with the officers unable to escape. When assisting officers were removing the chains and ropes to free the trapped officers, rioters fired mortar-style fireworks and attempted to assault the escaping officers with fireworks and discharging fire extinguisher chemicals.

In Oregon, the police and adjoining buildings were boarded and fire-charred in Portland from agitators among protestors. In Minneapolis, rioters forced the abandonment of a district station that was subsequently destroyed by arson.

It would be nice to be able to saunter into the neighborhood station and chat with the friendly, gray-headed desk sergeant. But those days are gone.