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Sue Bush
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Williamstown Police Chief Movin' Out

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Williamstown Police Chief Kyle Johnson is planning a move to an office formerly occupied by the defunct Williamstown Municipal Credit Union.
Williamstown - Town police Chief Kyle Johnson is planning a move within the next couple of weeks.

He's not heading to another town or another job; the scheduled move will be to another office, he said during an April 24 interview.

Studs and Sheetrock

Johnson is set to move the existing chief's office to a larger space that formerly housed the Williamstown Municipal Credit Union. Credit union members voted to join the Greylock Federal Credit Union last summer and the action meant ultimately closing the North Street financial services office. That, in turn, left a building vacancy.

Workers have been handling the minor renovations needed for Johnson to move into the space. A wall was erected and a door will be installed to separate the office from that of Town Clerk Mary C. Kennedy.

"It amounted to about eight studs and four pieces of sheetrock," Johnson said of the alterations.

The office now used by Johnson is slated to become an office for the department's three police sergeants, Johnson said.

Sergeants To Move To First Floor

Under the existing arrangement, Sgt. Scott McGowan. Sgt. David Lemieux, and Sgt. Paul Thompson work from a second-floor space that is shared with numerous patrol officers. Bringing the three senior officers to the first floor is a major improvement, Johnson said.

"The way they are upstairs, away from the dispatch center, it's far from ideal," he said. "They need to be closer to the dispatch area, closer to what's going on."

Because McGowan, Thompson, and Lemieux usually work different shifts, under routine circumstances the office will be occupied by one sergeant at a time. The room may also be used to keep a crime victim separated from a person suspected of committing a crime when necessary, Johnson said.

Patrol officers will have improved access and increased use of the second floor space to write reports and handle other police duties when the sergeants move to the lower level. Separating the officers from the sergeants means that officers will be able to handle their tasks without distractions caused by the sergeants trying to do their jobs, or vice versa, he said.

A booking room and a space used by police Dispatcher Andrea Bryant, who also tackles police department administrative assistant duties four days per week, round out the available first floor space.

Two prisoner cells are situated at basement level and require that officers and those in police custody navigate a steep, narrow stairway.

Non-Compliance Currently Unavoidable

Steep, narrow stairs lead to the police station's antiquated prisoner holding cells.
The office shuffle will improve some conditions at the police station but other situations, including an existing non-compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, will not be helped by the changes.

"We are not set up for ADA compliance except for Monday through Friday from 8:30 [a.m.] to 4:30 [p.m.],"Johnson said.

The town office building is handicap-accessible, and when the offices are open, that access accommodates the police station. But when the offices are closed, there is no handicap access for those in wheelchairs or who face other physical challenges.

"Recipe For Disaster"

And officers are acutely aware of the risks involved with moving a person in custody from a cruiser to the basement-level cells.

Those that are in police custody are handcuffed and shackled with leg restraints, which can mean a tricky trip down the stairs, especially if the person is under the influence of drugs or alcoholic beverages. Johnson noted that even cooperative individuals may have difficulty navigating the steps. Uncooperative individuals who exhibit combative behavior are causing risk of physical harm to themselves and any officer charged with bringing the person to a cell.

No serious injuries or escapes have occurred to date, but Johnson said that the potential for a dangerous situation is just a step away under existing conditions.

"It's a recipe for disaster," Johnson said. "We've been lucky."

The cells are not in compliance with specific standards but can be utilized because they are "grandfathered," he said.

Concerns Publicized

Johnson articulated his concerns in a written report to be published in the 2005 Town Report.

"While we do comply with the requirements of keeping male and female prisoners separated from sight, we do not comply with the current regulations regarding juvenile lockups," he wrote. "All juveniles in custody must be assigned to an officer in the booking room while lockup arrangements are made off-site. This can take hours to accomplish, thus tying up an officer and the only booking room."

"Our current facility does not meet the standards set forth by the Americans With Disabilities Act," the writing continues. "Anyone entering the building must traverse three stairs in order to speak with the duty dispatcher. Our holding cells are housed in the basement and all prisoners must be escorted down a flight of stairs to gain access. Technology advances also present a challenge. Our Communications Section is scheduled to be upgraded to the advanced Emergency 911 answering equipment. Being very limited in space creates a logistic problem for the installation and use of this new equipment."

Safety, Privacy, and Confidentiality

Most newer police stations are built so that prisoners may exit a police cruiser and be led directly into the building and to cells located on a ground-level floor, as opposed to crossing a parking lot and led down a flight of stairs, Johnson said. That strategy reduces chances of escape and injury.

View of a town jail cell. The two prisoner cells are not compliant with current standards, said town police Chief Kyle Johnson.

Modern stations host separate changing rooms for male and female police officers, and dispatch areas are not in full public view, as the town dispatch center exists. Officers and dispatchers now face challenges when trying to discuss private or confidential police matters because of the public setting of the dispatcher desk.

In addition to Johnson, McGowan, Thompson and Lemieux, the town police department employs eight full-time patrol officers, four full-time police dispatchers, five part-time patrol officers and four part-time dispatchers.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.

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