Break-in points to deeper security flaws at Ferndale police station

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 13, 2014 

Ferndale police station

A man trashed the Ferndale police station lobby to the tune of $60,000 when he broke in and smashed windows and desks early Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013. Police have arrested Darrell Ryan Stacey, 22, as a suspect.

CALEB HUTTON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

FERNDALE - A break-in last month at the city's police station has made city officials aware of other security weaknesses at the 1-year-old building.

Even the station's weapons room and emergency generators are vulnerable, Police Chief Michael Knapp said Saturday, Jan. 11, at a City Council retreat. Knapp told council members he was briefed on security flaws at the electrical room by the city's shop mechanic, Dave Carr.

"He could bring this building down in just a few minutes," Knapp told council.

The chief is also calling for security improvements in the armory, which holds weapons including machine guns, and about 5,000 rounds of ammunition, Knapp said.

"We're going to look at fortifying that room. It's just something that we have to do," Knapp said at Saturday's retreat, held at the police station.

The man who broke through the glass doors to the police station lobby on Dec. 22 and caused about $60,000 in damage never reached the higher-security parts of the police station. But the station's inner sanctum, including the armory - what Knapp called "the holiest of holies" - could be breached, the chief said.

Any security enhancements, and their cost, must be weighed against the real risk of a break-in, Knapp said.

"We have to see how we are going to reasonably secure this place, but not do so in a manner that outweighs the risks in terms of costs or appearance," Knapp told the council. "We still want to look like an approachable, friendly, inviting facility."

Break-ins at police stations are rare, Knapp said.

"I've been in the business 53 years, and I've never heard of it," he said.

At the retreat, Knapp provided more details to account for the slow response to the break-in. Police weren't aware of the burglary and the vandalism until about an hour after they happened, Lt. Bill Hatchett has said. The lobby did not have an alarm system.

Only one officer was on duty at the time of the break-in, 4:57 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 22. The officer was in Bellingham at the time, booking someone into jail, Knapp said.

The man who broke into the police station lobby fled 13 minutes later, and the officer could not have responded in time to catch him, even if police had been alerted immediately to the intruder, the chief said.

"Even an alarm couldn't have helped us this time," Knapp said.

Council member Cathy Watson, who attended the retreat, said she didn't want to comment on what improvements were needed at the police station until the criminal investigation was completed.

"I'm waiting for the final word from the chief. He'll tell us what he wants us to do to make sure this doesn't happen again," Watson said.

Investigation of the break-in led police to Darrell Ryan Stacey, 22. He was arrested on Dec. 27 and charged with burglary and malicious mischief. Stacey's next court date is scheduled for Feb. 19.

Mayor Gary Jensen said cost estimates for security upgrades, including wire-mesh glass at the lobby entrance, aren't in yet.

"We're getting prices for mesh, and we're also exploring at night having a roll-down door," Jensen said. Adding an alarm system to the lobby is also being considered. but is secondary to stronger barriers to entry.

"An alarm would alert somebody, but the way to stop it is to make it a little more difficult to get in to start with," Jensen said.

When the $5.2 million police station was being designed and built, the city's main priority was completing the project under budget. City officials didn't give much thought at the time to security at the lobby entrance, Jensen said.

"We were shaving as many pennies as we could," Jensen said. "That might not have been the best decision."

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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