In the News
Salina Post | Leslie Eikleberry
The recently opened Salina Regional Training Center had a special guest Friday afternoon.
United States Senator Jerry Moran was in town to tour the Salina Police Department's facility.
The facility includes a tiered-seating training room, a 10-laned 25-yard firing range with both stationary and moving targets, a judgement simulator room, a SWAT team locker room, and garage storage for various SPD vehicles, including its crime scene unit and the SWAT team's PUMA.
During the tour, Moran noted that he chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science.
"We appropriate about $5 billion a year in grants to local law enforcement," Moran said.
While his subcommittee cannot direct to which law enforcement agencies federal funding goes, it can make suggestions to the Department of Justice (DOJ). In that regard, Moran said he works to make sure that the DOJ directs some of the funding to law enforcement agencies in Kansas.
Moran then congratulated Salina Police Chief Brad Nelson on the slightly less than $20,000 federal grant that the SPD would soon be receiving.
Moran said that part of the reason he was at the facility Friday was to learn about local law enforcement personnel's lives and work. He also wanted to take the opportunity "to express my gratitude on behalf of Kansans and behalf of my family for what law enforcement does each and every day. And just to make certain that you know that you are appreciated and we're grateful for what you do."
Nelson told Moran that he had done some checking up on Moran. Nelson then told those assembled, including a number of SPD personnel and Saline County Sheriff Roger Soldan, he had found that Moran had, just a few days before, signed a police pledge and then read that pledge to those on hand.
Nelson tells Moran about the firing range component of the new facility.
During the tour, Nelson told Moran that while the new facility will primarily be used by SPD personnel and Saline County Sheriff's Office personnel, it also is open to law enforcement agencies in the area.
One of the areas Moran spent some time in during the tour was the judgment simulation room. Thanks to a $250,000 grant from the Salina Police Foundation and a contribution from Saline County, the room is equiped with the ability to project 360 degree scenarios with which law enforcement personnel can train.
While in the judgment simulation room, Moran asked about the idea of including other types of professionals in responding to police calls.
"There's a suggestion that we have othet professionals engage in domestic violence calls or de-escalation or mental health. Is there a way to separate what the call is until somebody arrives?" Moran asked Nelson.
"You won't, because if we knew before we got there we would be better prepared. We'd know bad things were going to happen," Nelson said. "If somebody wanted to step up and say 'we'll respond to every homeless call you have.' 'We'll respond to every mental health crisis call you have.' OK, but when things go south, and they will, what are you going to do? You're going to call us and it's probably going to be too late. It sounds good, but in theory, I would find it hard to believe that it's going to work."
Practicing COVID-19 safety, Moran offers Saline County Sheriff Roger Soldan an elbow-bump greeting.
Practicing COVID-19 safety, Moran offers Saline County Sheriff Roger Soldan an elbow-bump greeting. Salina Post photo
Later in the tour, while talking with Soldan about the need for a new Saline County Jail, Moran again broached the topic of dealing with people in crisis.
"Sheriff, here's one of my most common conversations with a county commissioner or sheriff. That is, we are housing people in our jails who we have no ability to change their lives. They're here for drugs and their here for mental illness," Moran said.
"I try not to get involved in state legislative issues. I have plenty of my own in Washington, D.C., and I can't figure out how to handle them. But Kansas, perhaps with our help, we need to do more to get Larned and Osowatomie back into functioning condition so that the burden of caring for people who aren't there for really law enforcement reasons, they're there because of mental illness, have a place to go," he continued.
"We struggle with that. We have inmates in custody now that have been waiting since February to go to Larned just for competency evaluations. Those people won't get to see any kind of court proceedings until that is done," Soldan said.
Moran asked Soldan whether he had a sense of what the problem is at Larned and Osowatomie with the wait times.
"I think it is staffing and funding," Soldan replied.
Moran said that when he visited the hospital in Newton, he was told of the violence done to other patients and staff by persons taken to the emergency room because of drug and mental illness issues.
"And again, their point is, the emergency room now is trying to take care of people that we really can't take care of. There's no place for them to go. What do we do with them?" Moran said.
"Put them in jail," Soldan responded. "People with mental illnesses end up in jail because they do commit crimes and there's no where else for them to go."
Moran noted that the police department in Newton opened a satellite police office in the hospital so there would be police in the hospital when the emergency room was being used.
"So many of our problems revolve around mental health and we're not in a position to really solve and in too many instances not willing to, able to, address mental health," Moran said.