The shabby display case in the dreary lobby of Salt Lake City’s existing public safety building is occupied only by an antique police hat and a few badges.
It’s symptomatic of the entire building, an unattractive, unsafe structure that voters on Tuesday finally agreed to replace. And up on the eighth floor on Wednesday, Police Chief Chris Burbank was a happy, if tired, guy.
He has, after all, been working toward this for 10 years, since then-Chief Rick Dinse declared it a top priority for police officers and firefighters who will occupy the complex once it’s built.
Critics, and there are many, will say that this is not the time to add 75 bucks a year to the property tax on a $260,000 home. But this is a progressive tax, one that will cost the high-priced homeowners more and those who live in modest houses less.
More to the point, police and firefighters deserve it. They’re the men and women who put themselves on the line every day for us, and if it costs $125 million to build them a headquarters that doesn’t have black mold and vermin, then it’s worth every penny.
Upstairs at the cop shop on 200 South, there’s an office-sized room that houses what now stands as the police department’s museum. Its display cases have the weapons seized from bad guys: knives, handguns, ugly sawed-off shotguns and a polished metal axe with black tape around its handle.
There’s even what looks like a horseman’s axe, a long-handled
combination spear and blade that can be hung from a belt. Oh, and a sinister straight razor.
Such are the perils that cops can encounter every day.
There was a time, Burbank says, when cops were outfitted with military surplus weapons such as the machine gun also on display,
About a quarter century ago, weapons and gear began to be tailored to police use, although it took some time — Burbank recalls how he and other SWAT team members would modify paintball holsters because they couldn’t find the thigh holsters they needed. And, with an industrial sewing machine in the basement, they’d modify body armor to do a better job of keeping them alive.
Now, a lot of police work is routine. A patrol may yield two or three calls that get you jacked up, calls like domestic violence or fights that could get you hurt.
In fact, a former-cop friend of mine says an officer spends most of his or her time wondering what’s going to happen; is this the one where I’m going to get hurt; and then, oh, man, I am getting hurt.
It’s like this, my friend says: Cops earn their pay when common sense tells them to get the hell away. And, of course, they won’t.
Think of the Salt Lake patrol officer who responded to Trolley Square when Sulejman Talovic opened fire on Feb. 12, 2007. He teamed up with an off-duty Ogden officer and quite likely saved lives. They were swiftly followed by a SWAT team that killed Talovic, but Andy Oblad — like any good cop — didn’t hesitate.
And firefighters, the men and women who walk into the heat and smoke to save a home, who are EMTs and paramedics who tend to the drunk on the sidewalk just as they would a gunshot victim or someone who’s had a stroke.
So, yes, all of them deserve a new headquarters that proves that our city honors what they do all day, every day. I’ll gladly pay my share of that honor and that cost.
BY PEG MCENTEE