ABERDEEN, Md. (WJZ) -- Citing a need to keep up with population growth, Harford County officials announced plans Thursday to add a third Sheriff's Office precinct.
The new central precinct and training academy will be located at the former HEAT Center in Aberdeen, which will be renovated over the next few years to suit the agency's purposes, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said.
"Rather than breaking ground on a new facility, we looked to redevelop an existing asset. Here at the former HEAT Center, we had an underutilized building with easy access to major roads and it's already paid for by local tax dollars," Glassman said.
The precinct will be situated between the existing precincts in Edgewood and Jarrettsville, allowing deputies to provide more timely service to the growing Aberdeen, Bel Air and Churchville communities, Sheriff Jeff Gahler said.
"These are all areas that have experience significant growth over the past two decades and it was vital that our office's growth follows this increase in need and demand," Gahler said.
Besides expanding the Sheriff's Office's footprint, the 20,000-square-foot facility represents a major upgrade in terms of space over the agency's current training academy at Harford Community College.
"The academy will not only provide space for dedicated law enforcement, corrections and in-service classrooms, they will have locker rooms, a full gym, training rooms and house our VirTra judgmental use-of-force simulator. I'm also pleased that we plan to have a dedicated community room," the sheriff said.
Because the precinct will be based in a facility the county owns, Glassman said he expects costs to the taxpayer will be minimal. He said anticipated costs include roof work, air conditioning and interior upgrades.
Glassman said design work on the precinct, which will begin immediately, could take two years to complete. He said the county already has $2 million set aside for that purpose. Once the design is ready, the project will be put out to bid.
"As it's an existing building, we think it will move fairly quickly," he said. "And I'm sure the sheriff will be calling us every day -- I hope every other day."
Over the next several years, Sheriff Gahler said, he hopes to add 49 deputies to his agency's ranks, some of whom will be charged with staffing the new precinct.
"This new precinct and additional staffing will reduce the burden on individual deputies and improve officer safety with increased manpower, as well as provide a more well-rounded raining facility to prepare Harford County deputies for the dangers they will face in the future," he said.
Residents who spoke with WJZ said they think the addition of another precinct is a step in the right direction.
"We are a pretty big county, so another one will be good for the county," Melvin Bagamsah said.
Added Courtney Martin: "I think it's going to make people feel more safe."
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