Police facilities pose unique challenges in response to pandemics. Although police stations are generally secure and restrict public access, many occupants of these facilities come in direct contact with the public as a fundamental part of their job and most of this contact occurs outside of the station. Considerations for mitigating the effects of a pandemic thus generally revolve around protecting occupants from infection carried by their coworkers from outside the station rather than infection from building access by the public.
Public Access: A normal consideration of police facility design is the balance of community-oriented service and the security of the facility and its staff. While promoting community-oriented policing to the public, law enforcement facilities balance public access with security by restricting areas accessed by the public, thus limiting occupant exposure within the building. Standard practice for a police facility, for example, includes a secure hard lobby configuration with no direct physical contact with staff. Separate restroom and meeting spaces are often included on the non-secure side of these facilities. This arrangement already limits the exposure of the building occupants. Additional considerations may include adding handwashing stations and partitions to provide additional separation within the non-secure and semi-secure areas of the station. Transaction counters that permit the passage of air may also be replaced with systems employing audio transmission.
Building Organization: Although small departments may share more spaces and functions within the building, most police facilities are arranged with a division between functions such as patrol, administration, dispatch, investigations, holding, and so on. Although best practices encourage communication between divisions, the inherent division of functions offers an opportunity to separate groups of people from regular direct contact with each other. Just as a police station is designed with layers or zones of security from least secure to most secure, similar layering or zoning can be used to separate staff based on risk from high contact to low contact risk. Patrol officers typically have a high physical contact rate with the public while dispatch, for example, can function in an isolated if not even a remote location. Property and evidence processing pose a different type of risk whereas exposure to other individuals can be limited but physical evidence often cannot be sanitized with destroying possible evidence.
Policies and Procedures: Operational systems are likely the most important means of addressing the effects of a pandemic on law enforcement. Much of the risk of infection occurs when officers interact with the public outside of the station or when a detainee, suspect, victim, or witness enters a station. With limited access to the station, how those situations are addressed is critical. Zoning spaces from public to private and non-secure to secure becomes even more important than it has been. Contamination “from within” is perhaps an even bigger concern. Mitigating measures would generally include policies and procedures such as handwashing; thoroughly sanitizing shared equipment such as cruisers and bag and tag materials; and maintaining physical separation of individuals and any equipment or materials they use. Other policies that may be employed can limit access to portions of a building unless absolutely necessary. With digital systems, for example, patrol officers can complete report writing tasks on individually assigned devices without the need to establish a physical workspace or sharing equipment.
Design Considerations: Certain building design features can be employed to facilitate and encourage appropriate operations. For example, larger spaces and wider corridors with clear, simple circulation can support physical distancing and reduce the rate of individuals crossing paths with each other. Sanitizing and hand washing stations can be included at various locations within a building with particular attention given to transition spaces, including building entrances and exits and in any common use areas. Those common spaces and functions can also be enlarged to provide opportunities for separation. As part of that enlargement consideration should be given to HVAC with increased air changes and additional exhaust, especially in areas where individuals may need to congregate or aggregate, such as briefing rooms and locker rooms. Additional storage spaces may be needed and perhaps assigned as more individual equipment is used as opposed to shared. Most of these supporting design considerations revolve around two key ideas, both of which have already been supported in law enforcement design in many ways: create facilities with larger, more flexible spaces designed with clear and simple organization for flow and separation of functions. With the need for both increased physical separation of occupants and space for additional individually assigned equipment, law enforcement facilities will likely begin to change to include more overall space and a more clear division of use and function of that space.