Casper police and city officials made their case Thursday night for a new building to house the city's law enforcement agency.

Police Chief Keith McPheeters outlined the department's evolving needs to the public at a town hall.

"The police department needs to be a facility where our citizens are comfortable coming to meet us," McPheeters said. "It's extremely important that our victims have a good feeling when they come to the police department. Those people that are witnesses to crimes -- those people that need police services -- it's very important that we have an open, transparent and inclusive police department."

Casper police moved into the Natrona County Hall of Justice in 1977. Forty-three years later, the crimes facing police have drastically evolved. The police department does not own the building and instead leases it from the county.

Today, police are facing new challenges. In 1977, McPheeters said, police didn't face active shooters at schools. They didn't investigate complex child porn cases.

As technology has changed, so have the needs of the police department. With those changes, the department has used "every square inch" of the available space at the Hall of Justice.

"There's not even a broom closet that hasn't been repurposed to meet the needs of the department," McPheeters said. "We've lost the ability to be efficient."

In the months leading up to Thursday's town hall, Casper police began consulting with a firm specializing in police buildings. Police Facility Design Group President James Estes and his team went to work meeting with the staff and officers who work out of the current Casper Police Department Building.

Estes described a building where it's difficult for officers to meet one-on-one with crime victims. In some cases, police have to take statements from citizens in the building's public lobby.

It's also becoming increasingly difficult for the department to safely and securely store evidence, with storage overflowing into a warehouse off the property.

The department has moved its dispatchers from the Hall of Justice to a building on Landmark Drive. Police operations are split between multiple buildings downtown. Officers who need to give reports and fill out affidavits following incidents share four computers in the department. If those computers are full, officers are left filing reports from the computers in their cars.

And the current building shortchanges female officers, McPheeters said. As more women pursue careers in law enforcement, CPD needs a building that will adequately serve them.

That's not the case today.

The women's locker room at the police department doesn't have adequate enough storage for female officers to store their ballistic vests to dry out between shifts.

What's next? 

McPheeters and Estes both said officials have looked at four future options.

The first would be renovating portions of the Hall of Justice Building utilized by the police department at a cost of $43 million.

Purchasing and renovating the Casper Star-Tribune building or the former Sears location at the East Ridge Mall would come at a cost of $39 million and $42 million, respectively.

Both short term and long term, it will be cheaper for the department to construct a new facility catered specifically to its needs.

City Manager Carter Napier said the potential new police building would be one of the bigger projects the city has taken on in recent memory and likely the future.

Funding for the project would most likely come from a special purpose tax, which all Natrona County voters would have to approve.

Because voters from outlying areas like Evansville and Mills would need to approve the sixth-penny tax, those communities would want their own projects financed through the special tax.

Once a set amount is raised by the tax, it would sunset, Napier said.

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