Decaying police buildings

June 1, 2010 8:20:43 PM PDT
Many nights Action News tells you the stories of crime in our communities. And, too often, that crime carries a heavy cost with our police officers paying the price.

In Philadelphia, 6 officers have died in the line of duty in 16 months.

And though they know risk always greets them on the streets, you might be surprised by what greets them off the streets inside their own offices.

Behind the walls of Philadelphia's criminal justice system lies what most would call an injustice and the evidence is everywhere.

"This is very upsetting, very upsetting," said Sgt. Calvin White of the 23rd police district.

It may be tough to tell which side of the bars means punishment when you go inside one of the buildings where the city's more than 6,000 sworn officers go to work every day.

"You got one broken toilet here," Sgt. White described.

He gave us a tour of a building long ago fallen into disrepair.

"Inside a here you got another broken toilet."

Sgt White is one of those on the city's front lines of crime fighting. And this is where he plots the battle on our behalf.

"Cockroaches, we got a big cockroach problem, cockroaches all over the place."

The 23rd is not an exception. At the Roundhouse, the city's symbol of police power, there is mold on the ceilings, holes in the walls and offices so cramped victims often wait next to their victimizers to get the very different attention they demand.

"It's not pretty. It's not pretty," said Sgt. Ray Evers a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department.

The effect of all of this may be playing out in dangerous ways. Though police say they get the job done, morale is rock bottom.

"Well it makes a difference in terms of the ability to be able to effectively fight crime," explained Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. "The conditions in which officers have to work leaves a lot to be desired."

The Roundhouse was built in 1962, then a testament to architectural ingenuity, today, police say, like its shape it handcuffs them.

"We do not have enough space for the amount of folks who work in this building," said Sgt. Evers "If we had better facilities, we'd probably, you know, get better service out there."

The hallways, already jammed with files that don't fit anywhere else, are draped with wires in an attempt to bring the 21st century into a building not fit for the future. And behind the walls, pipes unfit to carry clean water, officers, instead, pay for their own.

Back at the 23rd, Sgt. White says the concern is something else.

"Just breathing this stuff, you don't know what's in the air."

Black soot coats the ceilings around the vents. And, to stay warm in a drafty building, that air is trapped by makeshift insulation clothing, stuffed in the cracks.

But with the city already deep in debt, there are no plans for new facilities the mayor once said are needed. Officers know this but they don't have to like it.

"Well it's just sad. It's sad to not only be concerned with your safety outside. We do a lot of stuff a lot of people would never even think about doing," said Sgt. White. "And all those things are on the street. But when you come to your worksite this is what we're faced with. These are the conditions. This is worse than the prisons."

Now to be clear, the mayor's office didn't want to talk on camera about this, but says it is aware of just how bad things have gotten. But, they say, in a city that was just recently faced with the possibility of laying off police officers, brand new buildings just aren't in the cards.

Still, the question remains, what can be done? Soon enough, it may not be a question of whether we can afford to fix things up, but whether we can afford not to.