By: Scott Bosco, Staff Writer for the OC Register
Orange County Sheriff’s Capt. Brian Schmutz said he was a young deputy when the department first occupied the small and crowded Aliso Viejo station in 1996.
At the time, all patrol operations in south Orange County were handled from the 21,000-square-foot facility.
The station serves almost 600,000 residents, a population almost equal to the cities of Anaheim and Santa Ana combined, in an area that covers about 350 square miles, Schmutz said. As south Orange County’s population grew, so did the number of deputies.
But the station stayed the same.
“When we started in that building we had 320 employees. Now we’ve got 485 employees,” Schmutz said. “So we had really outgrown the facility.”
After nearly two decades, the Sheriff’s Department will open a new south Orange County station at 20202 Windrow Drive in Lake Forest on Saturday, relieving congestion in the Aliso Viejo station and reducing response and travel time for southeast county units.
“If you were a Rancho Santa Margarita deputy, you’d have to head in 45 minutes early because you have to go all the way in to Aliso Viejo to unload your stuff and basically end your day,” Schmutz said.
In addition to being overcrowded, the Aliso Viejo station benefited the cities in the southwest parts of the county because of its location but failed to serve the cities on the east side of the I-5 well.
“The presence of a station in southeast Orange County will enable residents to visit a much less crowded facility closer to home,” sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Hallock said. “Deployment times will be greatly reduced for the communities being served by the Saddleback Station.”
The new Saddleback Station will employ more than 210 people, including deputies, community service officers, investigators and support personnel. Deputies at the station will patrol Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita and all unincorporated areas east of I-5 in south Orange County.
The 52,000-square-foot office space and commercial warehouse cost the county about $1 million to convert into a station.
When the facility opens, residents will be able to report crimes and get information about obtaining copies of reports.
Services will expand after 90 days as the station becomes operational. The facility does not have holding cells or jail cells. No bookings or probation appointments will take place at the facility, Hallock said.
The station features rooms for interviews, evidence processing, locker rooms, equipment areas, an emergency operations center, a briefing room, a training room and standard offices and work spaces. The facility also provides office space for deputy coroner and Orange County Crime Lab personnel.
The facility is leased for $500,000 a year, the cost of which is shared by each of the contract cities that benefit from the station.
“DBAC did an amazing job in constructing our Sheriff’s Station in Lake Forest. It’s no small undertaking to convert a commercial building to a public safety facility. Their craftsmanship was excellent, they stuck to their timeline, and they were very helpful with the necessary changes as the project progressed.” Captain Brian Shmutz (Southeast Operations, OC Sheriff’s Department).