Residents give Harrisburg substation mixed reviews

Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
The building for the Augusta-Richmond County Sheriff's Department substation at 1804 Fenwick St. was donated by nearby Platt's Funeral Home.

A sheriff's office substation that opened last summer in Harrisburg was heralded as a way to increase police presence in a crime-ridden neighborhood, but opinions are mixed as to whether it's done any good.

 

"It hasn't really changed anything," said Frank Christian, a Harrisburg property owner who would rather see deputies walking a beat in the neighborhood than parking in the substation driveway.

The renovated duplex at 1804 Fenwick St. was donated by Platt's Funeral Home on nearby Crawford Avenue. Volunteer work and donated supplies spruced up the small red brick house as a multi-purpose building for deputies.

Corrine Curtis, a co-owner of Platt's, said it's helped "quite a bit."

"We wanted to restore homes and a better way of life," Curtis said.

Neither the Richmond County Sheriff's Office nor the Downtown Development Authority, which oversaw the project, have any hard evidence on the substation's impact on area crime. But the need for it was illustrated the day it opened last July when deputies raided a suspected drug house a few blocks away from the ribbon cutting.

Sheriff's Lt. Scott Gay said he has heard complaints about substations sitting empty. Further investigation usually shows that deputies are there, just not when someone is watching, he said.

A common argument for substations is that it's a good place for deputies to write their incident reports. Richmond County deputies can already write most reports from laptop computers in their cruisers.

Gay acknowledged the sheriff's office is in transition toward a "paperless" system, but said there will always be a need for a place to write reports. Diagrams in accident reports, for instance, are sketched by hand, he said.

The paperless system might mean that some substations are eventually shuttered, but Gay sees a long-term need for the Harrisburg substation. The substation sits at the nexus of several beats and is ideally situated near several major roads, which makes it useful not just for road deputies but traffic deputies and the crime suppression team, he said.

Harrisburg resident Lori Davis, who recently campaigned for mayor on a pledge to clean up crime, lives a few streets away from the substation. She said it's "rare" when she drives by to see a deputy at the substation.

The Rev. Kelly McKnight, the pastor of Bible Deliverance Temple, said the neighborhood is still dealing with crime and other issues. The church, which sits on the same block as the substation, has taken proactive measures for its evening services, such as bright lights around the parking lot and escorts out to cars.

With 37 homicides to date in Augusta -- including two teenagers found shot to death Thursday-- McKnight is also considering hiring an off-duty deputy for his congregation's protection.

On the positive side, McKnight said he is seeing an increased police presence. Sunday night, he said he saw three different squad cars from his front porch.

McKnight said it's been a positive experience and that it's unrealistic to expect a deputy to be at the substation 24/7.

"It was never explained that way to me," he said.

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