When the Hillsboro Board of Alderpersons awarded a $178,947 contract to Brockmiller Construction in Farmington to renovate and expand the city’s Police Department, it signified more than the start of a construction project, city leaders said.
It was a vote of confidence for a department that looked like it was on the chopping block in early 2019.
At the time, board members considered disbanding the municipal police force and paying the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office to take over law enforcement in the city.
However, the board ultimately hired retired Sheriff’s Office Undersheriff Steve Meinberg to run the Hillsboro Police Department, and it looks like he has turned it around, Mayor Buddy Russell said.
“My goodness, I couldn’t be happier with the department,” Russell said. “Steve is the main reason. We’ve got a great group of police officers now.”
During the months leading up to Meinberg’s hiring, the Sheriff’s Office investigated several allegations leveled against the Hillsboro Police Department, including problems with evidence storage, officer training and poorly written reports.
All of that has changed since Meinberg took over Feb. 1, 2019, said Ward 1 Alderperson Brenda King.
“Our Police Department is amazing and it’s thanks to Steve Meinberg, and he has a lot of good officers,” King said. “(The renovation approval) does show a huge turnaround for the department.”
Working around the construction
The board voted unanimously Nov. 2 to approve the contract with Brockmiller Construction, which submitted the lowest of four bids to expand and renovate the work space at the Hillsboro Police, which has been operating out of about a third of the basement at the City Hall building.
Brockmiller began the project in mid-November, and the work is expected to be finished by the end of the year, Meinberg said.
“When City Hall opened in the 1990s, the Police Department was in several offices on the main floor. They then moved down to the basement, where we are now,” Meinberg said. “The other two-thirds of the basement has been used for storage by several other city departments and other entities. The Chamber of Commerce, Fletcher House and the Hillsboro Historical Society all used it for storage.”
Those items have been moved out to make room for much-needed additional workspace for the Police Department, Meinberg said.
“This will allow us to do more processing on site instead of at the (Jefferson County Jail),” he said. “So, we’ll be able to process (those arrested) here, which is more efficient. We’re enlarging and improving our evidence and property management areas. We will have a processing room for fingerprinting and mugshots, which we’ve never had before. We will have a training room, which we’ve never had before.”
Since the start of the renovation project, Hillsboro Police officers have been completing their duties in the middle of a construction zone.
“It’s been difficult,” Meinberg said. “We are still working in our third of the basement. Our original space is being remodeled, too. We’ll shift over there (to the new space) when they remodel here. We’re already moving equipment out of their way.”
He said any inconvenience will be worth it in the end, when the department has a bigger and better work area.
“It is all needed and it’s the right time to do it now,” Meinberg said. “We’re trying to provide a better service and be more professional. We’ll be more efficient, which leaves us more time on the street.”
Meinberg said he and his officers appreciate city leaders approving the renovation project.
“Our argument to (City Administrator Jesse Wallis) and the board was to make an investment, and they have. We showed them the need and they believed in us.”
The department has 12 officers, including the chief.