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Vergennes police happily settled into new Main Street heaquarters

VERGENNES — Vergennes police were working out of their new 4,611-square-foot police station at 8 Main St. as of early last week, and they and city officials said they were thrilled with the all-but-finished product.
“It’s something everyone in Vergennes should be proud of,” said Police Chief George Merkel. “These guys are truly excited. It’s raised morale through the roof.”
For a total cost of a little less than its $1.55 million budget, the department has almost six times as much room as it had in its former Vergennes City Hall headquarters.
That room has been put to use well, according to Merkel, City Manager Mel Hawley and Detective Jason Ouellette.
They listed many reasons why the new station would help city police do their jobs better: safety provisions, superior evidence storage, a sally port to allow them to bring people into the station privately and safely, and separate detention and interview areas to allow privacy to those giving police statements.
“It’s safer now for the public,” Ouellette said.
He cited two examples: People in the city hall lobby could overhear statements being taken inside the old station, and without a secure detention room conflicts between officers and either criminals or simply intoxicated residents were more likely, posing risks to all.
Those remarks prompted a question from Hawley to Ouellette.
“How the hell did we function there?” Hawley asked.
Merkel also emphasized the importance of separate areas for statements and processing those in custody.
“We can put someone in a room and it’s comfortable, it’s a comfortable setting, and they don’t have to worry about someone listening to their statements,” Merkel said. “We’ve got a place to interview people safely and securely.”
Nor does anyone any longer have to walk into — with or without handcuffs — city hall on police business. Merkel said sometimes people who are handcuffed are “just having a bad day,” and the privacy the new station offers is more humane.
“We’re not parading people in through the front door of city hall,” he said.
Details also appear to have been thought out. The wall of evidence storage lockers, for example, includes a refrigerated compartment for DNA samples, while the back of the sally port offers a cleaning station that can spray warm water into the eyes of someone who has been pepper-sprayed. Merkel also said the building design will allow for future technological expansion.
“I think we used foresight in the way things were laid out,” he said.
And, yes, the officers have a better set-up, including for the first time their own computers. And their patrol room off the beaten path, Ouellette said, means officers don’t have to scramble to hide confidential paperwork on their desks every time someone walks through, as was the case in city hall.
And Hawley said police officers deserve to have locker rooms, as is the case now in Vergennes.
“You ought to be able to come to work in your plainclothes and come to a locker room,” Hawley said.
Ouellette works in plainclothes as a detective, but said the value of the locker rooms struck him the other day when he saw two colleagues walk out in civilian clothes for the first time.
“All of a sudden I felt a sense of professionalism,” he said.
Hawley said fencing will come down from around the building as soon as the ground thaws, and once landscaping is complete, probably in May, the city plans to hold an open house to allow residents to see for themselves the new station they agreed to fund.
Merkel said he is grateful to the residents who backed the station, and added that he sees enthusiasm about it when he is out and about.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am,” Merkel said. “The city of Vergennes also seems very happy and very excited about their new police station, and they should be. This is a very nice facility. It’s a professional facility.”
As for how the new station stacks up next to the old, Ouellette said the two really can’t be compared. He’s just happy for the move and residents’ support.
“It’s like comparing tomatoes to Mars,” Ouellette said. “As a police officer, I am very thankful to the community.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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