Calling it a health and safety issue, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency this week agreed to fund renovations to the police evidence building, including the addition of a changing room and shower.

As it stands, the department has neither.

“One of the things that's been lacking in the police department forever is adequate shower and changing facilities,” said MRA director Ellen Buchanan. “Patrol officers are exposed to a lot of things they'd rather not be exposed to as it is, but with COVID among us, it's more of an issue and a concern.”

Thursday's approval included $233,000 for the addition of a changing room, locker facilities and a shower – the first shower at the police department's two locations. The city will be reimbursed for the cost once a certificate of occupancy is issued.

Police Chief Jaeson White said the lack of hygiene facilities at both the Catlin Street property and the department's downtown headquarters has become an issue and represents a safety threat to the city's officers and their families.

“Even before COVID, we struggled with our officers encountering bio-hazards. They go on scene where there's drug paraphernalia, drugs, and they get this material on their uniforms,” White said. “They don't have the ability to get clean before going home and dragging those bio-hazards into their homes and subjecting their families to some of the hazards they face at work.”

As it stands, White said, the city's 116 officers currently wear their uniforms to work, complete their shift and return home, still in uniform. That happens regardless of what the city's officers encounter during their shift.

The lack of facilities has long been known, but only now is it being addressed.

“I find it embarrassing that our public servants, who are exposed to much in their job, don't have basic hygiene facilities,” said MRA board member Tasha Jones.

Thursday's funding approval also includes revenue to further secure the police evidence facility on Catlin Street. White said several access points to the building remain open to the public and need more security.

“If we had a breach of the building, it would allow someone to get into an area that's sensitive. It's where we keep all the evidence for criminal prosecutions,” White said.