County eyes new public safety building in EmpireGive it a couple of years, and Empire Township may just become the forensic hub of Dakota County and the surrounding region — the place where “CSI: Crime Scene Investigations” sorts of things happen.
By: Michelle Leonard, Rosemount Town Pages
Give it a couple of years, and Empire Township may just become the forensic hub of Dakota County and the surrounding region — the place where “CSI: Crime Scene Investigations” sorts of things happen.
That could happen if Dakota County receives state funding for its proposed Public Safety and Technology Support Center, a 50,000-square-foot addition to the county campus that currently houses the newly completed Dakota Communications Center.
Back in June, the Dakota County Board of Commissioners prioritized items they wanted to have included in the 2008 state budget. Second on that list was a $6.65 million bonding bill requesting funding for a Public Safety and Technology Support Center. County officials were scheduled to meet this week with the Dakota County legislative delegation in hopes of gaining support for what is now a $7.8 million request.
But Dakota County director of management and budget Jack Dittmore thinks the request is valid, especially considering the early success of the DCC. The Public Safety and Technology Center, he said, “is a logical extension of the DCC.”
Heralded as one of the most successful cooperative efforts between the county and its municipalities, the Dakota Communications Center provides, among other things, a countywide 800 mhz dispatch system. All 11 cities in Dakota County with more than 10,000 residents are partners in the DCC.
But with that comes the need for extensive dispatcher training. And, Dittmore said, there is a lot of technology involved. That technology is improved from the past, but will likely change in the future. So, county officials started to think about another building, adjacent to the DCC, where training for that technology could take place.
In 1999, the Criminal Justice Information Integration Network was created, also a collaborative project involving the same 11 cities and Dakota County. The CJIIN, among other things, is a network that allows for cross-referencing from all areas of the criminal justice system, from courts to local police departments. While the Dakota County sheriff’s department has housed much of that program, the technology there is changing and expanding, too.
Meanwhile, computer forensics has also become very important in solving crimes. The sheriff’s department has a small lab for such investigations, but the Dittmore says that, too, could be expanded. In fact, the county has had very preliminary conversations with the FBI about creating a regional forensics center at the site.
“It’s very preliminary,” Dittmore said, “We said, ‘Let’s put together a proposal for this kind of center and build some partnerships for a place where we could be doing training to promote public safety and security in Dakota County and the state of Minnesota.”
A home base
The Public Safety and Technology Support Center could also become a home base for some of the county’s more specialized law enforcement teams, like the drug task force, the special operations team and the Mutual Aid and Assistance Group. Most of Dakota County’s cities have law enforcement representatives on those teams. As Empire township is located near the center of Dakota County, the site would provide a more centralized location for special training.
With County Road 46 to the north and Highway 3 on the west side of the property, the Empire location would also benefit the parks patrol division, which has boats and lifesaving equipment that has to be stored.
Dittmore has already met with a couple of Dakota County’s legislators, but was scheduled to meet with the entire county delegation later this week. Legislation has been introduced for the 2008 session, he said, and county members have visited with house and senate investment committees.
If legislative support comes, the design process will begin in earnest this year, Dittmore said, with construction to start in 2009 and the Public Safety and Technology Support Center to be operational in 2010.
“That’s why we want to get it out there before the legislators,” Dittmore said, “and see if we can generate some support for it.
“Hopefully we will be successful with it because we think it’s a very good idea.”
Dakota County is not the only county to make a request for public safety buildings. Scott and Olmsted counties have also made requests, Dittmore said, but both of those appear to be for training police and fire personnel.
“Ours is unique in that it focuses on technology and the training necessary for using that technology,” Dittmore said.
The proposal has the support of the Dakota County sheriff’s department. Chief deputy Dave Bellows sees it as yet another opportunity for collaborations within the county, region and state.
“When you look at the willingness of our municipalities and the county to come together, you just don’t see that elsewhere,” Bellows said. “You come into Dakota County, and it’s a spirit of cooperation. It’s a basis of trust that we’re doing what is best for Dakota County citizens.”More from around the web