Austin’s new 15th District Police Station opened its doors to the community in grand fashion Saturday with an open house event and free public tours of the new digs.

The new station, at 5701 W. Madison St., is more than twice as large as the old one on Chicago Avenue. And the new station has enough technological goodies to bedazzle even Neo from The Matrix. But visitors to the station this weekend didn’t need to down red or blue pills to enjoy all the station has to offer.

From videoconferencing capabilities to digital fingerprinting processing, the station’s impressive new features were on full display. “The station is tremendous,” said 15th District Commander Al Wysinger. “It will enable us to service the community and also gives us crime-fighting tools that’s going to last through the 21st century.”

The new accommodations include: Teleconferencing directly from the commander’s office to other districts in the city; a digital fingerprinting system to allow a turnaround time of five minutes for suspect identification (the old ink-and-paper processing took 24 hours).

A new fitness center boasts treadmills and weights. Austin’s new CAPS office (Community Alternative Policing Strategy) is spacious and located near the building’s front desk for easy community access.

“All of our police stations are built with the community in mind,” said Mayor Daley, who has cut the ribbon at new stations across the city this year. “This will help in the rebirth of the entire West Side.”

Police and fire stations in the 17th (Albany Park), 10th (Marquette) and 22nd (Morgan Park) districts have opened in the last two years. The facilities have come with a price tag of $10-15 million each. The Austin station cost $11.5 million. The city plans to construct an additional 20 stations in upcoming years.

Ground was broken for the station in 2002. Chicago-based UBM Construction built the station over roughly 42,000 square feet of vacant lot between Menard and Waller avenues along Madison Street. UMB, the largest black-owned construction company in the city, used 25 and 5 percent of minority and female contractors, respectively.

Fighting crime with communication

Aesthetics aside, the station’s main function is providing officers with crime-fighting and communication resources.

“[Look at] what happened in New Orleans,” said Montel Gayles, executive director of the Public Building Commission. “We heard that fire and police were without communication. Look at the breakdown that occurred without communication. It’s critical that we always keep these systems up and give them other tools that they need in the event of an emergency.”

Among Saturday’s open house attendees: aldermen Isaac Carothers (29th), Emma Mitts (37th), and Ed Smith (28th), Chicago Police Supt. Phil Cline, and West Side church leaders.

Tours of the station were given after the morning press conference. Mayor Daley and other dignitaries took the first public tour of the facility from the Public Building Commission, which oversees all public building projects in the city.