I’ve been staying away from posting about the Town of Vienna. But I just had a conversation with my next-door neighbor about the new Town of Vienna Police Station. It left me shaking my head, saying, oh, that can’t be right.
Or can it?
I already knew that the new police station was going to be the biggest building they could squeeze onto the lot. That’s the hallmark of the prior administration. I knew the Mayor-elect would vehemently defend the proposed police station, because that’s what she was elected to do — defend the decisions of the Powers that Be in Vienna.
But I did not realize that part of the new police station — built like a fortress, as post-911 standards require — and three times the size of the current police station — has a shooting range. (Three times the size of what it replaces, with no more residents or police here than when the old police station was built.)
As if, what, they can’t use the Fairfax County range? As if Town of Vienna police are that likely to have to draw a weapon in Town? As if their duplicative “meeting space” area didn’t waste enough space? (This building sits maybe 200 yards from the Community Center, yet has its own meeting rooms presumably for holding meetings with citizens. That, somehow, the oversized Community Center cannot accommodate?)
I get the fact that if you want to build the biggest possible fill-in-the-blank, you have to use up the space. I just didn’t realize that one of the reasons was having a handy area for honing gun skills.
To be clear, I’m not against having the cops being trained in the use of firearms. That’s part of the real world. I’m not that keen on un-trained people carrying weapons. I’m a gun owner. And a health economist. I’m not strictly anti-gun, though my wife is. I think that, as a public health measure, easy access to guns is a bad idea. But that has nothing to do with police training.
It’s just odd to see a major piece of capital infrastructure dedicated to that task. In a building that is vastly larger and far more imposing that what it replaces. Given that the sum total of my interaction with Town police has been being pulled over for having a marker light out on my car.
There has been a petition circulated to defer the spending on this obese police station. I didn’t think it would get any traction with Town government, because … well, that’s the way Vienna works. A thousand people signed up against the 440 Maple West development, and the in-crowd just shrugged that off. But maybe I need to rethink that, given this new rumor of Vienna’s own shooting range.
There are maybe a couple of things to say about a petition to divert the spending on this building to other community-oriented purposes.
First, you can’t legally divert money from the capital budget to the operating budget in a Virginia town. So, the fact that the prior administration “maxed out their credit card” on this police station is just, well, tough shit, from the standpoint of funding operating costs of the Town going forward. The capital account (borrowed money) can’t be used for that. Because, among other things, you can’t deficit-spend as a Virginia Town.
So even if you think that putting a dedicated gun range ahead of other needs is misguided, if that money is re purposed, it can only be spent on capital projects. You can’t legally use it to fund (e.g.) social services.
You might say that either our economic priorities are amiss, or our social priorities are amiss, or both. Or maybe the Powers that Be are planning for the complete breakdown of social order. Here in Vienna. In which case, I’d wish they’d let me in on that, so I could get prepared.
As with so much of Town of Vienna government decisions, I can’t make head or tails out of it. But, ditto, whatever They have Decided, It Cannot Be Questioned. Which is how I take our new Mayor’s response to having been questioned about this expense.
Second, the ship sailed years ago on this police station project. Two years ago, and then some. And, believe it or not, the proposed building is only modestly above industry norms of space per occupant and cost per square foot. You can read my analysis of that in this post, dated 9/4/2018, dating back to the time when this project was still being billed as a police station renovation.
All-in-all, Vienna has modestly more officers per capita, square foot per officer, and cost per square foot than what I estimated to be the average within the industry. Particularly the square foot per officer part. This building looks big, and objectively, it is big. And when you multiply those three together, you get what you get.
If you want to have a clue to the high cost, just look at the specs. From that posting:
And if you read further, you will see that the architects are not exactly planning for a friendly small-town police department. The specs include blast film for the windows, concrete bollards to prevent ramming the building, steeply sloped window sills to prevent bomb placement, and special construction to withstand earthquakes. This isn’t Andy of Mayberry.
The bottom line is that this building is in large part a reflection of the post-911 paranoid world. It’s built to withstand terrorist attack. It’s occupants receive regular training in the use of deadly force. It truth, it would not surprise me if they had plans in place in case of a breakdown in social order (e.g., riots), even here in bouzhie Vienna. Because that’s modern thinking. Earthquakes included.
And all of that predates the pandemic, and predates Black Lives Matter. Community policing went out the window on 9/11/2001. Pretty much, if you want Federal funds, you have to build a fortress designed to protect its occupants from you. And those occupants have to be trained to deal with terrorism. Because, as always, we’re fighting the last war. You can put a nice face on it, and pretend otherwise, and include a “community meeting room” and such. But a fortress is a fortress.
It’s not what you’d have in an ideal world. But it’s what we’re stuck with. For the next 50 years, here in the Town of Vienna.
With any luck, future generations will look back on this as being the high-water mark of the us-versus-the-rioters police architecture mentality. The embodiment of the 9-1-1 non-war that we’ve been fighting for the past 20 years. This building is of-a-piece with routinely being subjected to whole-body X-rays if you want to fly anywhere. Of-a-piece with a government that can legally “disappear” you at will, as part of the PATRIOT act. (Read it if you don’t believe me). It is of an era where nobody would even question that every sleepy little high-income suburban town would of course have its own police gun range.
So I applaud the people questioning this building. And, ultimately, questioning what I see as the post 9-1-1 mentality. I don’t think they’ll make a dent in Town of Vienna government. But I applaud them nevertheless.
And if we’re not lucky, and the Town actually needs its own little fortress? If, down the road, people actually applaud the decision to build a police station that could withstand an assault? Well, I just don’t want to go there. I have more important things to worry about, in the here and now, to worry about what this building bodes for the future.