LAWRENCEVILLE -- Rex Millsaps, Lawrenceville's mayor, issued a public thank you to the drug dealers of Gwinnett County on Friday, tongue firmly in cheek.
The mayor was christening his city's new police headquarters, which was partially funded by drug forfeitures -- another ironic example of drug traffickers' proceeds backfiring.
Years in the making, the new $7.7 million Lawrenceville Police Department at the corner of Jackson Street and Ga. Highway 124 opened to fanfare Friday morning. At 72,000 square feet with room to grow, the three-story, neoclassical structure could hold roughly six of the department's current digs inside a former Ford dealership.
Lawrenceville Police Chief Randy Johnson said the building was finished ahead of schedule and under the original $9 million in SPLOST funding earmarked for its construction.
The department employs 72 officers and 21 civilian personnel, who expect to be relocated by June 15, the chief said.
"There's nothing in comparison (at the old headquarters) to what we have now," Johnson said. "Everything's better."
Among the new features: room.
Room for showers and lockers, the K-9 unit, a physical fitness area, a large evidence room. Paul Hoover of Precision Planning, the project's architect, said roughly 30,000 square feet -- and the entire third floor -- is unfinished for future expansion.
"It should last us for many years," Johnson said.
About $1 million in drug forfeiture funds from across metro Atlanta helped buy equipment and other amenities. The department has officers assigned to special drug units helmed by the DEA, FBI and ATF.
Another key purchase is a huge replica badge on the headquarters' fascia, a $10,000 addition thought by officials to be the largest in the world.
"I want this badge to be a symbol to our local and international drug dealers," Millsaps told a crowd. "If you come to Lawrenceville, we will spend your money."
Lawrenceville police vacated the former Lawrenceville City Hall's basement in 1990, moving a staff of 25 officers to the South Clayton Street headquarters. The chief said the past decade in the building has been less-than-joyful, with cramped offices, faulty plumbing and moribund air conditioning.
Gwinnett Sheriff Butch Conway, a one-time Lawrenceville police chief, reflected on his days in the former car dealership, using descriptors like "low-ceilings" "dingy" and "dark" in contrast to the new facility.
"I'm proud of them," Conway said of his former department. "It's a long time coming. This puts icing on their cake."