Plans for a police station in East Smithfield have hit a snag, forcing the town to pause and giving opponents more time to organize.
The town had planned to place a police substation at 918 Blount St., but that now seems unlikely, said Town Manager Michael Scott, who was until recently Smithfield’s police chief.
“At this point, it appears the seller of the 918 Blount St. property will not be able to afford the town a clear and sure title to the property,” Scott said. “If this is the case, we will not acquire the property, which puts us back looking for an alternative location.”
But the delay could be a blessing in disguise because it has given Scott more time to think about how to proceed. He now envisions a building that would be home to both a police substation and a recreation center for young people in East Smithfield.
One goal of a police substation is to create a better environment for a neighborhood’s young people; a recreation center would do that too, Scott said. “Having a joint facility that has similar goals would be a win-win situation,” he said.
In the current year budget, Scott set aside about $50,000 for a police substation in East Smithfield. One option is to carry that money forward to 2016-17 with an eye on creating a dual-use building.
But not everyone wants a police substation on Blount Street. Longtime resident Douglas Watson says he has 65 signatures on a petition opposed to the plan.
“We’re not a (housing) project,” Watson said. “We’re not controlled by the government or state. We’re homeowners. We don’t have the type of problem where we need a substation right here.”
Watson said other Smithfield neighborhoods were in greater need of a police substation than his community. And he suggested the police department was stereotyping black neighborhoods.
“For 44 years, this community has been a target,” Watson said. “They can’t come up with any amount of drugs or anything that has happened down here.”
Watson said he had spoken with the town manager and given the town a copy of his petition.
Interim Police Chief R.K. Powell said the police department met with East Smithfield residents on April 23 and remains open to hearing from residents about the substation plan.
This is what Watson wants police to hear: “We don’t want the substation down here,” he said. “It’s not fair at all. We don’t need it.”
Abbie Bennett: 919-553-7234, Ext. 101; @AbbieRBennett