The Cleveland Police Department reached a milestone of sorts on April 26, 1926 when the new Central Police Station at 2001 Payne Avenue opened as the new Cleveland Police Department Headquarters. The new facility was intended to replace the old Champlain Street complex slated for destruction to make way for the proposed Terminal Tower. The Champlain Street station dated back to 1893, and was badly overdue for replacement. The Plain Dealer explained, “The moment the new station at E. 21st street and Payne Avenue N.E. opens for business, the ancient Champlain avenue mausoleum of crime, rats and malodors which has been functioning as a police headquarters for perhaps twenty-five years too long will start to crumble before the wrecking engines of the Union terminal interests.”
The construction of the new building seemed to suggest that better days were ahead for the Department after the difficult times in the 1920s. “The new station, designed by City Architect Herman Kregelius, is of white limestone, with two pinkish pillars at the side of the Payne avenue main entrance. It is four floors high and cost about $850,000…The building fronts 230 feet on Payne, 101 feet on E. 22d and fifty-seven feet on E. 19th street. In the rear is a garage 140 by 80 feet which will be partly underground, that portion and the roof-used for car storage-being reached by ramps...In the basement of the building will be locker rooms and a pistol range. The first floor contains the information bureau, traffic division, chief’s office, inspector’s office, record room, property room and newspaper reporters’ rooms. The second floor contains the municipal courts, prosecutors’ and probation officers’ rooms. The third floor contains the detective bureau, with offices for the inspector, superintendent of criminal identification and lieutenants. The Bertillon rooms with complete photographic equipment and record space, are well equipped. There are seven little rooms for detectives to confer with their prisoners. The fourth floor contains the jail, with men’s and women’s cell blocks separated…[there] will be cells for eighty-eight men and twenty-two women, the story being sufficiently high that this capacity may be doubled at any time. The fifth floor will house the radio department and battery rooms.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
“The police department is fortunate in acquiring a headquarters appropriate to the importance of the work it has to perform in making Cleveland a safe and comfortable city.”Cleveland Plain Dealer Editorial, 4/27/1926
The new Central Police Headquarters housed the Chief’s Office and staff and the Third District Headquarters on the east wing of the first floor. The west wing was occupied by the Warrant and Suspect Unit and the Record Room and Message Center on the south side. A snack stand operated by the Society for the Blind was on the north side. Next to it there was a small room with telephones for use of reporters. The Accident Record Room and Subversives Unit were also on the north side. A small room under the middle stair case was occupied by the Microfilm Unit staffed by a single officer.
Located on the north side of the center of the first floor was an ornate staircase that led to a landing and then to a double staircase to the second floor. On the wall of the landing was the Cleveland Police “Badge Case” that contained the badges of each Cleveland Police Officer who gave their lives protecting the citizens of Cleveland.
Two elevators convey police officers, miscreants and citizens from the basement and garage as far as the fifth floor. Police Officers staffed them until sometime in the 1970’s when they were finally made self-service. The rear half of the elevators had a screen that could close when prisoners were being transported.
The Cleveland Municipal Court, Clerk of Courts offices, and City Prosecutors Office were on the second floor. Temporary “holding cells” serviced the four courtrooms. Bondsmen, attorneys, and others did their “dirty” work in public restrooms at the end of the second floor hall.
The General Duty Detective Bureau and several special investigative units including Homicide, Robbery, Burglary, Narcotics, Intelligence, and the Checks, Pawns and Statement Unit were in the west end of the third floor. The Scientific Identification Unit including the Forensic Laboratory, polygraph examiners, felony Criminal Records, and the Photo Laboratory occupied the east end.
The Auto Bureau was immediately opposite the elevators of the third floor for the convenience of those that had vehicles impounded. The Unit maintained the records of impounded vehicles and issued releases when the vehicles were cleared. The Unit dispatched tow trucks by a direct telephone line to the contract tower (Cleveland Automobile Club.) Vehicle license registration information was available there along with reports of vehicles stolen in Cleveland and surrounding cities.
The Central Prison Unit occupied the entire fourth floor including the Booking Window and interrogation rooms. A line up room was divided by a screened wall and bright lights that prevented suspects from seeing witnesses on the other side. Three days a week detectives were required to attend lineups before roll call. Newly arrested individuals were marched along behind the screen and described to the detectives only inches away in the dark. Many crimes were solved as a result of these encounters.
The attic of the building ultimately became a partial fifth floor and housed Police Radio, the Telephone Exchange and the Gamewell equipment that received messages from the Call Boxes located throughout the city. This room was described as “a mammoth switchboard, capable of handling the hourly reports of 2,000 men. The new signal room is a bewildering array of dust proof mahogany cabinets, enclosing polished brass instruments mounted on slate. Every instrument has been designed for simplicity and accuracy. In the early 1970’s, Police Radio moved to new quarters on the first floor and the fifth floor remained as the radio “backup” and the Call Boxes began to disappear from city streets.
An attached garage was behind the building at the basement level. It was accessed by ramps from East 21st Street and East 19th Street. Prisoners were brought into the building through the garage to the elevators. The Third District Roll Call Room was located in the northeast corner of the garage. The roof of the garage provided additional parking for police vehicles and was also accessed by ramps from the streets.
Several offices were located in the basement. Among them were the Cleveland Police Credit Union and for a time the Police Athletic League. The Third District Locker Room was there along with the Unit of Arms. The Unit of Arms included a machine shop, an ammunition reloading facility and work space for several gunsmiths.
A City of Cleveland gas station and garage was on the north-west corner of East 19th and Payne Avenue. In the 1970s, the City moved the servicing of vehicles to other facilities and the newly formed Auto Theft Investigation Unit took over the garage for the inspection of stolen and suspected stolen vehicles. Directly behind the gas station was a building facing on East 19th Street that housed the Supply Unit and Tow Unit.
The Downtown Traffic Bureau was located in a building across East 21st Street from Central Station. Mechanical Signal Controllers for all of the downtown traffic signals were located in the same building. For some years, the Departments Personnel Unit was also in the building.
The Criminal Courts Building was located just north of Central Station on East 21st Street. It held the Common Pleas Courts Criminal Division, the County Prosecutor’s Office, the County Sheriff’s Office and the County Jail.
During the 1970’s space became a serious issue and a number of specialized units moved to the Amstan Building, a single story warehouse located at East 19th and Lakeside Avenue. The Impact Task Force, Tactical Unit, Burglary, Robbery, Homicide and Narcotic Units, the Planning and Research Unit and the Police Academy were relocated to the building.
Central Station was badly outdated and became frequently referred to as the “Barney Miller” station (in derogatory comparison to the deteriorated appearance of the facilities depicted in a then-popular police television comedy). City and County voters approved a levy for construction of a Justice Center in 1969 or 1970 and the Department moved into the new Headquarters Building in 1976.
The old Central Station continued to house the Third District Headquarters on the first floor. The building was remodeled in the 1990’s. The Communication Control Center moved into the fourth floor, but the remainder of the building was vacant.
In 2008, the Police Department re-organized from six to five police districts. The Third District Headquarters moved to the former Fifth District Headquarters at 10507 Chester Avenue. In 2015, a newly constructed building located at 4501 Chester Avenue became the home of the Third District Headquarters. The Communication Control Section moved to the third floor of the new facility.
The Payne Avenue building continues to serve as a police facility called Public Safety Central and houses the Downtown Patrol Group and a specialized units and departments, including Traffic, Medical, Community Policing, Inspections, Personnel, School Guards, SWAT, Nice, Narcotics and the Gang Unit.