As a captain with the Lee’s Landing City Police in the 1980s and early 90s, Mark Ballard saw emerging forces that would drive fundamental changes to how law enforcement would be conducted moving into the next century. For one, there was more and more specialization – SWAT teams, gang units, evidence technicians – and a greater emphasis on officer professionalism. Both the operational standards and the technology for the administration of jails were being revised and upgraded. And there was increasing emphasis on productivity, the more effective and efficient use of law enforcement resources.
So, in 1992 when he was elected Fort Armstrong County Sheriff, he took a pro-active approach to these changes, preferring to lead them rather than just react. While he inaugurated lots of day-to-day changes – like equipping patrol cars with mobile data terminals and having deputies begin and end their shifts from home instead of headquarters – all of them fit into his “big vision” of regionalization, that is, working alongside rather than in competition with other local law enforcement agencies.
It took nearly ten years of planning and negotiating, but in the early 2000s two of his biggest efforts saw implementation.
The first was construction of the Regional Law Enforcement Campus (RLEC) on unused land owned by Fort Armstrong County next to the county fairgrounds just north of Lee’s Landing. The RLEC would include three separate buildings but standing side-by-side.
The Regional Firearms Facility (RFF) was the first to open in 2002. It was on the far right of the planned trio; the smallest building. The first floor included an entrance foyer, some offices and conference rooms and a large temperature and humidity-controlled warehouse for county records. The lower level housed a standard, eight-lane seventy-five-yard shooting range equipped with a computer-controlled pop-up target system.
At three stories, the regional jail was on the far left, and was the largest building in the complex. With a capacity of up to five hundred prisoners, it received inmates not only from Fort Armstrong County, but adjacent Makuakeeta County and Culver County. Construction was started early in 2003 and was scheduled for completion in the fall of 2004. As it was a secure jail facility, there was no helping that it ended up with a vaguely fortress-like appearance.
Finally, a new sheriff’s headquarters stood between the other two buildings. Construction began in the spring of 2004, with completion scheduled for the fall of 2005. It was set slightly forward of its adjacent neighbors and instead of any parking in front, there was a park-like courtyard that reached all the way out to the street.
The lower level of the new sheriff’s headquarters included the department’s vehicle maintenance garage and parking area (SWAT vans / patrol cars / special purpose vehicles), the new Joint SWAT staging area (briefing room, lockers for uniforms and equipment); deputies’ lockers, a gym / fitness center, the weapons vault and a secure evidence storage area.
The first floor included an entrance foyer and reception area, the dispatchers’ office, the deputies’ ready room, the “bullpen” for sergeant’s desks and a conference and education center named in honor of Sr. Sgt. Cyril Waters, who served as a deputy for forty-two years.
The second floor included the administrative offices (officers, administrative support) and the detectives’ offices and interview rooms.
Next to Fairgrounds Road, across almost the entire front of the three buildings was a wide, four-foot high wall with “Fort Armstrong County Regional Law Enforcement Campus” etched into it in two-foot high letters. Ground mounted floodlights were clearly meant to illuminate the sign at night.
While Ro Delahanty would, like all of her fellow deputies, move out to the new sheriff’s headquarters, the regional effort by Sheriff Ballard that would most impact her was the formation of an expanded Regional Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Unit. The new unit merged and expanded existing smaller sheriff’s department and Lee’s Landing Police Department’s SWAT teams and would be available for deployment not only in Fort Armstrong County, but the adjacent Culver and Makuakeeta Counties. Ro was recruited for the expanded unit as its designated marksman (sniper).
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© 2019 Dave Lager