Middletown Model: New police facilities in Hartford, New Britain bode well
Hartford Courant Editorial
November 01, 2012
Middletown's downtown feels so safe that few students, evening diners or moviegoers give safety much of a thought. One reason for this feeling of security is the presence of the police station on Main Street. The station is tucked into a handsome, historic-looking building with a popular restaurant, the First and Last Tavern.
The mixed-use building stands for the idea that security and entertainment are two sides of the same coin. "It really sends a terrific message," said Larry McHugh, president of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce. By creating a strong sense of security, the building "has been one of the prime economic drivers of downtown," said Mr. McHugh. The Middletown downtown area now has 39 restaurants, among other businesses, and is one of the state's top urban renewal stories of recent years.
Hartford and New Britain are hoping for some of the Middletown magic as each city opens a new downtown police station this fall. With some luck and good planning, both of the new facilities should be major building blocks in their respective city centers.
The New Britain station, which moves from the fringe to the heart of downtown, has actually been criticized for being too good a site: A few people felt it should be reserved for commercial development. But officials hope the new station, which will have first-floor retail, will imbue the center city with a sense of security and trigger development around it.
Downtown New Britain has good bones: handsome buildings, underground utilities, arts institutions. A tough new anti-blight ordinance championed by Mayor Tim O'Brien is serving its purpose. Mr. O'Brien is working with Central Connecticut State University to bring some student housing downtown, which would put more feet on the street and create more ridership for the CTfastrak busway to Hartford when it opens in two years. Downtown New Britain, as used to be said of Brazil, had potential for years. Now it may finally be realized.
Hartford's new public safety complex invites a slightly different challenge. It is close to the center of downtown but north of I-84, in a new building that largely recreates the historic school building that it replaced.
The key is to use the new complex as the catalyst to reclaim the neighborhood just north of the highway — known as "The Tunnel," after the rail tunnel there — in such a way that it becomes part of downtown (which it was, before the unfortunate placement of the highway). This area also has good bones — enough handsome Victorian brick buildings, plus the historic Isham-Terry house, to anchor renewal.
A well-designed development can broaden the downtown footprint and bring the feeling of safety to the whole area.
Hartford's police station was downtown until the 1970s, when it was moved to the North Meadows, almost out of the city. The thinking was that radio-dispatched cars were the future of police work, so the station could be anywhere. That was, in retrospect, a bad idea because it limited contact between officers and citizens. That's the last thing that should happen.
Again, consider Middletown. Officers begin their foot beats on Main Street, and over time get to know all the workers, business owners and regular customers, creating the relationships that are at the heart of community policing. The officers are there, but don't have an overbearing presence on the street. Most police cars are parked behind the building.
But they are there when needed. One man who apparently thought the police station building was just a restaurant attempted to rob a bank across the street. Imagine his surprise when he bolted out the door.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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