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Safety facility plan scrutiny continues

A City Council study committee will meet again today after directing police staff to return with data that will help members with their analysis of the city jail.

The four-member committee, appointed by the full council earlier this week, has met twice and will meet for the third time at 5:30 p.m. today at Lawton City Hall to continue assessing proposals to remove Central Fire Station from the new public safety facility and to significantly downsize the city jail. Contractors already have broken ground on the 107,000-square-foot facility which is to be built between Larrance and Railroad Street, just south of East Gore Boulevard. While the structure was designed to be the new home of Lawton Police Department and the city jail, municipal court and the firefighting crews of Central Fire Station, some council members wanted to review whether the fire station and jail should remain in the building as designed.

Time is of the essence: the committee is slated to have its recommendation ready to present to the full council at a special meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, which is why committee members are holding back-to-back sessions. Ward 3 Councilman Caleb Davis, study committee chair and the councilman who proposed the committee, has said he doesn't want to negatively affect the construction time frame for the facility, which is expected to be finished in two years.

While Wednesday's session focused on the fire station, committee members spent Thursday quizzing Police Chief James Smith and Capt. John Mull, the department's technical services commander, on data related to the jail and its operations.

Committee members have said they are exploring the idea of reducing the size of what is now designed in the new facility as a 100-bed jail with 20 holding cells, because some are not certain the City of Lawton needs to be in the business of housing prisoners.

The option that was explored Thursday was a plan to transfer those who need to be jailed to the Stephens County Jail (Comanche County's jail typically is at capacity and wouldn't have space to house those held in the municipal jail, committee members said). Statistics provided by Lawton Police Department indicate a current cost to the City of Lawton of $25.29 per day per prisoner, a fee that reflects the city's costs of housing, feeding and guarding those who serve sentences in the city jail. By contrast, Comanche County's cost was estimated at $32.50 per day, while the cost for Stephens County was $35 per day.

But, Davis challenged that city cost, saying it didn't reflect all expenses associated with prisoners, such as the cost of facility operations, additional staff and medical transports. His estimated cost to the city was $49.78 per inmate per day.

Committee members had other issues they wanted to explore.

For example, Mull said that while the city is not responsible for inmate medical expenses when they are housed in the municipal jail, Lawton would be when its prisoners are housed in Stephens County. And, not only are LPD officers responsible for transporting inmates to and from Stephens County, they would have to go to Duncan to transport Lawton prisoners who need medical attention. There also would be the cost of adding two vans dedicated specifically to transporting prisoners, an estimated cost of $50,000 per van for high use vehicles that would have to be replaced in two years.

The Lawton Constitution

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