Monday, June 14, 2021

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For BPD: no “armed camp” needed, not even a fenced one

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Sometimes as we watch various local boards, we just shake our heads, wondering where some ideas come from and why elected officials don’t do more to quash them in their infancy.

Nowhere was that more evident than this week’s proposal from outgoing Burlington police chief Jeff Smythe, who apparently wants to turn the city’s police headquarters into a fortress, of sorts: barricades at the front, fencing all around, alleged security precautions here, there, and yonder.

All to the tune of about $2.7 million. The fencing alone (and the gates to go with them) would tally to more than $570,000.

Now, we have to say we find the very idea that the police need to have a fenced fortress bemusing, at best. So, we’re supposed to assume that the public, even its criminal elements, are just waiting for an opportunity to get inside the police building?

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A facility that would, by definition, have the highest law enforcement presence per square inch of any location in Burlington?

And, we’ve generally noticed, most police officers carry firearms and other weapons.

And the general, taxpaying public is supposed to believe the police need protection in the form of fencing around their building?

Somehow, we’re supposed to accept the concept that the police need the equivalent of an “armed camp,” or bunker mentality?

If so, Burlington’s in a whole lot worse shape than we ever figured.

We don’t often have occasion to agree with Burlington’s mayor, Ian Baltutis, on many issues, but we certainly share his skepticism about how the general public would react to this kind of appearance.

Another unnecessary idea is that the taxpayers should spend $150,000 to install “bollards,” known to laymen as steel posts, that would prevent the recurrence of one incident in the past 100 years in which an impaired (and/or mad) driver rammed a minivan through the front doors of the police department.

It is incredibly unlikely that such a scenario would occur again, and hardly worth spending $150,000 to guard against such a remote possibility.

Why must government officials – here, the police chief – so often shape policy with a mindset to the rare aberrations in society, rather than the commonplace?

Why, we can think of a whole lot of things $150,000 could buy – for the police or other agencies – that would be far more worthwhile, both short-term and long-term. Or the money could simply be saved.

We also think the idea of a “new” headquarters, which some councilmen seemed to be advocating, is very premature – particularly if Burlington is committed to the idea we repeatedly hear of having “community policing.”

If that’s the case, there may be a need for one or more satellite or auxiliary offices dispersed around the city, particularly on the eastern and western extremities, not an even greater behemoth in downtown which is, de facto, farther and farther away from where most people live – and thus, where most calls for assistance are coming.

We also note that we cannot come up with an example of another municipal police station that has tried to wall itself off from the surrounding community it ostensibly serves. Other than in a few large cities that have seen riots, looting, burning, etc., we’re unaware of any example – and especially any other in North Carolina – where this fortification “design” has been implemented for police stations.

And we certainly hope it doesn’t come to Burlington.

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