Proposed Pr. George’s police headquarters has checkered history

March 15, 2013

The complex of buildings that Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) hopes to buy for a new police department headquarters has a checkered history.

Known as Washington Plaza, it is the same group of buildings just off Pennsylvania Avenue that the school system tried to buy several years ago from Dean Morehouse’s Washington Plaza LLC. That $36 million lease-purchase deal was brokered by NAI Michael Companies, as was the new deal for the police headquarters.

When the school board was looking at a lease-purchase deal for the buildings in 2008 and 2009 during the administration of County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), the General Assembly, and in particular Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D), who represents a chunk of Prince George’s were angered because other school system needs were suffering. Miller threatened the system with the loss of the equivalent amount of the deal — $36 million — in state funds if officials went ahead with the purchase. At the same time the school system was trying to acquire the buildings, it also was proposing millions of dollars in cuts in programs that would affect classrooms.

The deal soon went sour. The school system, whose board then as now was led by Verjeana Jacobs, had to pay at least $5 million to get out of the deal at that time after spending at least $2 million on renovations. This time, the cost of renovations is included, said county budget and finance chief Tom Himler.

Himler said the county thought the building fit the police department’s needs and said the purchase price was a good deal and would save the county money in the long run.

The NAI Michael Companies president now is former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D), a close associate of Baker, but a colleague, Jeff Ludwig, brokered this deal for the police, Curry said.

Meanwhile, the police department is looking forward to the move.

Assistant Prince George’s Police Chief Kevin Davis said police hope to consolidate as many functions as possible in the new police headquarters facility — which for now will be a five-story building, a six-story building and a parking garage. Though police have not decided precisely which units will move, they are hoping that Internal Affairs, which now operates in Clinton, and Records, which now operates in Hyattsville, will be able to join upper-level managers and criminal investigators in the centralized facility.

“It’s just much more efficient for the centralized components of the police department to exist together,” Davis said. “If nothing else, for ease of communication.”

Davis said in the current headquarters in Palmer Park, police have converted what used to be storage spaces into offices, scattering those that could not fit wherever they could find space around the county. Davis said a drive from headquarters to internal affairs could take 35 minutes or more.

“We’ve literally run out of room, and we’re bursting at the seams,” Davis said.

Davis said the new facility would give police room to grow and help them improve their sometimes tarnished image.

“The projection of a more professional image for the police department is part of this as well,” he said.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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