Government and law enforcement leaders held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new and improved Tuscaloosa Police Department headquarters Friday afternoon after 20 months of renovations at the facility on Trevor S. Phillips Avenue.

The department moved out of the building last January and set up shop in the Oak Hill School off of Hargrove Road East.

In their absence, contractors fully replaced the roof and skylights on the original facility and made major indoor renovations, from switching out old wiring and other appliances to building out a brand-new simulation room meant to train officers in immersive, virtual environments.

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Blankley thanked Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and the city council for supporting the department at a time when it can be unpopular to do so, and for sticking to the city's core value of prioritizing the safety of its residents and visitors.

"Cities across the United States right now are defunding police departments, they're pulling their budgets, they're cutting officers' pay, they're cutting officers on the street," Blankley said. "Here in Tuscaloosa, we see something different. They believe in this core value so much, that they renovate our building. They just gave us at the police department and the fire department a new pay plan. They're still working toward an RSA for a better retirement. They're giving us a lot of equipment to fight cybercrime and do a lot of other exciting things here at the police department and new cars. It's so refreshing to be a police chief in this day and age to have a city that backs you."

Maddox reaffirmed that support and praised the dozens of officers gathered outside the renovated HQ for the sacrifices they make every day in the name of protecting and serving Tuscaloosa.

"Communities across this nation are trying to detach themselves from policing," Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said at the ceremony. "What I'm proud of is that our city council and our community, we're embracing policing. We understand that you are that line between calm and chaos. You are what protects this community."

The commemoration was two-fold, though. Police Chief Brent Blankley also presented TPD's Medal of Valor to three officers who acted with courage under fire this January, when a fugitive from Mississippi opened fire on police attempting to arrest him.

Blankley said TPD Officers Berch and Michaels were the first to respond to the Links apartment complex that afternoon in January on reports of an armed man wandering the complex.

When they tried to stop him, he allegedly opened fire and struck Berch in his bulletproof vest. As the officers returned fire and retreated, Michaels fell and injured her ankle.

TPD's Officer Prewitt was the first to respond to calls for backup, and he flanked the suspect and fired at him long enough for Berch and Michaels to escape to safety.

The suspect was eventually captured after dozens if not more than 100 officers from several area law enforcement agencies responded to the scene and finally found him hiding in a grassy area near a lake on the property.

"A building is a building, but it's all about who's inside," Blankley said. "It's about who has the courage to go out and fight criminals and help the public every single day."

For more updates on the upgraded facility and news from the department as soon as it breaks, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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