Wildwood PD opens cutting-edge home

Evidence custodian Russell Swartzfager leads a tour of the new Wildwood Police Department’s evidence processing room, which features state-of-the-art equipment.

The Wildwood Police Department is ready for the future. The department held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday for its new headquarters. The building, with expansive training rooms, roomy offices and state-of-the-art facilities, will help Wildwood protect and serve its citizens as the city continues to expand for years to come. “We finally got what we’ve been looking for and working for to this point,” Wildwood Mayor Ed Wolf said. Wolf said the city has been trying for years to get a modern building for the department, but in a way he’s glad it took as long as it did. If it had been built 10 years ago, he said, it wouldn’t be suitable for the city that has grown so much over the past few years.

“This is really a special day in the city of Wildwood,” Wolf said in remarks before the ribbon-cutting. “We’ve needed this for years and years.

“We’ve waited a long time to show this off ... we’re awfully proud of it.”

Wildwood Group 3 Commissioner Joe Elliott lauded the facility and those who work there.

“It’s an absolutely fantastic building,” he said, “but at the end of the day, it’s just a building.

“The thing that sets us apart is the spirit, hard work, blood and tears given by the officers and employees of the Wildwood Police Department.”

Elliott also had praise for innovations that kept down the cost of construction. The 14,000-square-foot facility on County Road 462 near U.S. Highway 301 cost about $7 million.

“It’s a quality building at the best price,” he said.

Group 4 Commissioner Marcos Flores said he was gratified to be a part of getting the headquarters constructed and that it will serve the city well as it expands.

“It’s good growth, healthy growth,” Flores said.

The building has advantages that go beyond being simply a police headquarters, according to Group 5 Commissioner Julian Green.

“We think this will be great for the community; a beautiful addition to the city,” said Green, who also gave the invocation at the ceremony.

Congressman Daniel Webster, R-Clermont, told those present that the new facility is a testament to the partnership between the community and law enforcement.

“It’s a picture of how the mayor, commission and citizens feel about their police department,” he said.

Wildwood Police Chief Randall Parmer said the new building is a big upgrade from the trailer that previously housed department offices.

“We truly have the best we can have,” he said.

“As Wildwood grows, as The Villages grows, we’re going to grow along with it. This is for the future of the Wildwood PD.”

When it came time for the actual ribbon-cutting, Parmer ensured that it would have a law-enforcement flavor. Instead of a giant red streamer, Wolf cut through a band of yellow crime-scene tape held by officials.

The building has the latest amenities to help officers do their jobs. The evidence processing area is filled with modern equipment, a far cry from the previous facility. There, officers used home-built equipment to do some of their work. A repurposed fish tank was even used for some tests.

Detectives who formerly worked in more of a cubby-hole now have room to spread out and even welcome another colleague when the city’s growth calls for it. There also is a room set aside as a workout area with weights and other fitness equipment for officers.

The department actually has been working in the new facility for a few weeks but the official opening was special, Parmer said.

“Today’s like the icing on the cake,” he said. “It’s great to have the community here to celebrate the moment.”

Parmer said the next thing on the department’s agenda would be to hire three additional officers to bring the force up to full strength.

While preparing the department for a bright future, the building also offers a nod to the agency’s past. The large training room, which will enable the department to keep its classes in-house and even open to other law enforcement agencies, is named for former Wildwood Police Chief Don C. Clark, who was on hand for the ceremony. He led the department for 28 years beginning in 1967.

“It’s unbelievable from where we came from,” Clark said.

Senior writer Steve Straehley can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5228, or steve.straehley@thevillagesmedia.com.