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Police Station Sizing

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

Those of you with your own in-house police departments have sworn officers (henceforth “officers”) and police department space for them to work out of.  Dividing the amount of police department square feet space by the number of officer’s results in the de-facto standard of square foot of space per sworn officer.  What is your standard?  Is it adequate and sufficient, or is the department continually requesting more space?  Irrespective of that, since many departments may have fewer police officers than last year due to budget cuts, you may need to establish a new standard of police station space per officer.  A police station space study would be handy, but who has extra money for that these days?  Let me pass on this anecdotal information for what it is worth.

During my career calculating Development Impact Fees (DIFs) I have been able to collect collateral information on police station space and officers.  I‘m not claiming this to be scientific in any way, but I offer it nonetheless as instructive information.  I use the data to determine the amount of additional police station space required to house the additional officers hired to accommodate the additional calls for service resulting from the remaining General Plan development.  If a City has a current de-facto standard of 233 square feet per officer and the future development will require the addition of, say, forty two additional officers at General Plan build-out, then 9,786 square feet of additional police station space would be needed and in theory financed by the agency’s DIFs.

I researched some records on police station space (and a number of officers) from twenty-three past clients that had in-house police departments.  To keep the calculation fairly simple, non-sworn staff was assumed to be a function of the number of officers.  Department officer counts varied from just under 400 officers to a low of twelve officers.  Space resources varied from a 150,000 square foot facility downwards to a 2,000 square foot facility.  A few of the agencies had their officers assigned to more than one building but most had only one facility.

The resulting space per officer for the twenty-three agencies ranged from a high of 607 square feet to a low of 133 square feet. The average was 347 square foot per officer, with ten policing agencies above that average and thirteen policing agencies below that average. This does not indicate that 350 square feet per officer is the correct amount.

Now, let’s get to the anecdotal part.  In each case I simply asked the chief if they felt they had enough space for the department to function properly.  The results were remarkably similar. Below 250 square feet per officer, the police management indicated routine and significant dysfunction from shared lockers, lockers in hallways, lack of filing, evidence or interview space, etc.  At about 250 square feet per officer the negative responses decreased noticeably and the chiefs tended to indicate that the allotted space was either adequate or manageable (but sure they would like and certainly accept more space).   There were fewer and fewer complaints as the average space per officer increased upwards from 250 S.F. per officer.

Be aware, the information is limited to twenty-three California policing agencies, and to verbal impressions about the space per officer. Nevertheless, the Chief’s comments are believable based upon their professional experience.  If your police department has less than an average of 250 square feet per officer, I feel that it would be reasonable to believe the Chief’s requests for more space or, at a minimum, take them seriously enough to gather more information.

Now, you may think it unfair that the police departments with lower space per officer averages collect only enough in DIFs to expand their station ratably based upon their space per officer averages, even if the average is low and maintains (but does not expand) that dysfunction.  It is unfair. However in lieu of General Plan documentation to the contrary, the existing average is your de facto standard.  However, not one of the agencies I have worked with identifies a square foot space per officer standard in the public safety element of their General Plan, even after the DIF report was completed.  My final suggestion is that you adopt a square foot space per officer standard comment in your General Plan.  I’ve made this recommendation after each study, but it usually falls on deaf ears. I hope your agency will be different.

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