First in a series of stories in advance of Tuesday's public meeting to discuss plans for a new municipal complex in Kulpmont.

By Rob Wheary

Staff Writer

KULPMONT - Michael Pitcavage remembers when he started at the Kulpmont Police Department in January 2010 and saw the three-room station, located in former classrooms on the second floor of the borough building.

"I just couldn't believe this was the station," he said. "It is severely lacking. There are some aspects that really pose a safety hazard to the officers."

Pitcavage, now the chief and the borough's only full-time officer, discussed the facility and its shortcomings earlier this week. The police station is a topic that has gotten little attention amid the larger debate about the borough's plans to build a new municipal complex and the opposition to the $1 million-plus project.

Cramped conditions

On a tour of the station, Pitcavage pointed out there is just one door, and it's at the top of a flight of stairs.

"It's one door in and out of the station," Pitcavage said. "There is no elevator in the building, so when you have someone who is being uncooperative, it can be a hassle getting up the steps."

While other stations, including Shamokin and Coal Township, have a reception window with thick glass separating the public from the station entrance, there is no such safety precaution in Kulpmont.

"Anyone can walk in off the street," Pitcavage said. "And they would have access to the office and police officers."

While other stations have keypads and officers can be "buzzed in," Pitcavage and his five part-time officers are turning keys.

"There are also no security cameras in here, so if there is an incident, there is no way to document it," he added.

There is a restroom on the second floor, but it's outside the station rooms, down the hallway.

No holding cell

There is also no room or holding cell for prisoners, an accommodation that most other local departments have for keeping prisoners away from officers and the public.

Instead, prisoners at Kulpmont are handcuffed to a wall and sit on a bench in the middle of the officers' work area. A one-foot chain attached to each restraint allows them some movement.

"If we get close enough, we can be struck, spit on; any number of things," Pitcavage said.

He points to a crack in a wall caused by a prisoner.

"He basically got up and kicked the wall in," the chief said.

If more restraint is needed, a metal handle is built into the floor for a leg iron, but it's still out in the middle of the office area.

Just off the office area is a locked 6-by-9-foot room - the evidence locker.

"We have it cleaned up now. Before this, the borough was using the room for storage of other items besides evidence," Pitcavage said.

A new station

According to preliminary plans, about 300 square feet in the new municipal building would be dedicated as the police station. It would include a vestibule, a service window, an interrogation room and its own restrooms.

"It is a big step up for us and more adequate for our needs," Pitcavage said.

Critics say what the borough needs is not a better police station, but more police for 24-hour coverage, something they contend will be even more difficult to afford with payments on a 40-year loan for the new building.

"It's understandable that there are two sides to the opinion about a new station," Pitcavage said. "I'm sure everyone will say it (the current facility) is OK, until someone gets hurt here."