Plenty has been said - and will be said - on that, so instead let's consider our habits of modeling and whether there might be other reasons to be skeptical of the planning process for a new Police Station.
Let's take a tour through a couple of local historical examples of planning that seemed "wise and prudent" at the time, but which history has shown in fact to be far from wise and prudent. Consistently, it seems we overbuild things based on aggressive modeling.
(If you know of local civic/public disciplines in which modeling is surprisingly accurate, it would be good to know. Leave a comment about that, if you would. Success is probably relatively invisible compared to the screeching and grinding and protest in the face of failure or inaccuracy.)
Even if you do not agree that the situation with a new Police Station demands skepticism, it should not be a stretch to agree that skepticism is totally plausible and reasonable. It's not crazy at all. And since skepticism is reasonable, it is also reasonable to ask for more proof and argument from proponents.
Modeling Parking Demand
Back in the 1970s, it seemed wise and prudent to build big, public parking garages downtown.
|An older facade on the Chemeketa Parkade|
|Marion, Chemeketa, Pringle all operate ≤ 50% full|
The garages themselves are also holes of under-productive land and building in the urban fabric of downtown.
Our parking garages are a clear example of overbuilt infrastructure.
Modeling Future Driving
Throughout the 1990s, 2000s, and even 2010s, it has seemed wise and prudent to plan and build big, wide public roads.
|Consistent error: 61 out of 61 projections were too high!|
|The difference between ODOT's 2005 projections|
and the new FHWA 2014 projections
|November 2014 Presentation to City Council|
The Third Bridge and a lot of our road widening are also clear examples of overbuilt infrastructure.
Modeling Future Police Demand
So now we face new modeling that suggests we need not just a 75,000 square foot facility for our new Police Station, but a 150,000 square foot facility.
|November 2015 presentation to Council Subcommittee|
Even with big error bars, some folks will say it is "wise and prudent" to build a very big new Police Station in the near future. But what are the odds that in 20, 30, or 40 years a very big new Police Station will instead be an albatross, over-sized and a problem because it costs too much to operate?
|Currently on ice: Fire Station 11|
Even if we agree construction costs in 20 years will be much higher than today, maybe planning a smaller facility and letting the next generation deal with a second phase of expansion is actually more prudent than trying to anticipate that expansion today with an even bigger box. In this scenario, having unused, overbuilt capacity will be more costly to the future (and to the current generation who will pay for it) than asking them to fund and construct their own expansion - one that can more exactly be tailored to new conditions and new technologies in the future.
There is risk in building too-big just as there is risk in not building big enough, and we don't talk enough about the risk and opportunity costs in too-big.
Transportation is the thing here, so it's true that opinions here on police aren't deeply informed.
Police work is very labor-intensive, and it may be that modeling for staffing and space is way more predictable there than in other domains of modeling.
But we should also remember the areas of vast uncertainty: the Washington Post recently cited an FBI official saying, for example, "The FBI’s system for tracking fatal police shootings is a 'travesty'..." Unfortunately, there are important reasons also to hold a careful skepticism about statistics and modeling with regard to police work.
More generally there is strong evidence that our prevailing approaches to modeling across multiple disciplines badly overstate certainty, project with overstated assumptions about growth or too confidently apply current conditions to the future, and therefore overstate future needs.
Overstated Modeling Justifies Doubt
Modeling is inherently uncertain, but as it is practiced here in Salem now, it seems full of false confidence and false precision. In order to make better guesses and projections about the future, almost certainly we need better discussions of the uncertainty.
It is not therefore unreasonable to say that folks who argue in tandem with the City for a larger future police station have an extra burden of proof and argument. No one is saying we don't need a new facility badly and urgently. There is broad agreement on that point. But lots of folks have doubts about how big and fancy it needs to be.
Proponents of BIG might yet be right, but they need to prove it. Citizens are being asked to take too much on faith, and citizens can point to plenty of examples where the experts were wrong and the faith in them misplaced.