LUMBERTON — Residents, local officials and employees alike admired the Lumberton Police Department’s new headquarters during and after a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sunday.
The $3.5 million project took more than two years to complete.
“When praises go up, blessings come down. This is it. This is a prime example of what’s going on,” Chief Mike McNeill told a crowd of about 100 people who gathered under a hot sun to see the building dedicated and opened to the public.
The new 17,000-square-foot building, located on Godwin Avenue, stands as a testament to the department’s past and a nod to its future.
The headquarters was located on the spot from 1963 until 2012, when it was demolished and the department temporarily set up shop across the street from City Hall. Currently, the city has no plans for that building.
“This day that I stand before all of you, it’s not about me, it’s not about the Police Department here, but it’s about all the citizens of Lumberton and Robeson County. This belongs to you,” McNeill said.
Many in the crowd said the ribbon-cutting wasn’t just a milestone for the police force, but also for the city.
“The chief and I went to law enforcement class together back in 1981, that’s when we both got into law enforcement. And to see him still here and to see him speak on it today is a great achievement,” Councilman Burnis Wilkins said.
Officers James Walters and Ronnie Hayes are looking forward to the amenities, which include lockers for each officer and a workout area.
“Everybody won’t be bumping into each other and working on top of each other,” Walters said.
McNeill says a larger space for the detective division and a bigger evidence room won’t just make the workday more pleasant, but also help the officers do their jobs.
“Our evidence room was so cramped. What we’ve got back there now we can put more evidence in than we’ve ever had at the old Police Department,” McNeill said.
Wilkins, who represents the precinct where the headquarters is located, gave the building his stamp of approval.
“After working here for all the years I’ve been here, it’s state of the art. I went through it yesterday and it has got a lot of nice equipment, a lot of things I‘ve seen across the state in other areas, in other police departments. The design of it is great, I think our officers will enjoy it for sure,” said Wilkins, who worked in law enforcement for 32 years, including at the Lumberton Police Department.
U.S. Rep Mike McIntyre, a Lumberton native, helped secure more than $3 million in federal money for construction, furniture and computers.
The environmentally friendly building has motion sensors that turn off the lights when no one is in the room and efficient — and bulletproof — windows to maintain the temperature. Employees will have to scan their badges to get into various parts of the building, which includes offices, storage and conference rooms.
“… This edifice serves as a symbol of the dedication, the courage, the bravery and the sacrifice that our men and women in uniform make for all of us,” McIntyre said.
During the ribbon-cutting, McIntyre presented McNeill with a certificate to commemorate the time he served as chairman of the 7th Congressional District’s Law Enforcement Advisory Commission.
Wilkins said the department will be a beacon for the community.
“I know it’s the city of Lumberton Police Department, but it’s right here in our community. It keeps the community safe, and a lot of police cars passing through it,” Wilkins said, noting about 20 law enforcement officers live in the neighborhood — more than any other precinct.
Mayor Raymond Pennington was moved by the crowd that filled every foot of the building.
“You know the greatest thing about this right now is the number of people who are here from our city to share their support. It means a lot to us,” he said.
During the open house, residents snacked on cake and refreshments in the interview rooms as employees tested out their stations, taking the new chairs for a spin in reception area.
“I knew the crowd would come,” McNeill said after giving the new records room’s sliding shelves a whirl. “These folks, the people in Lumberton, they know what we’re all about. We may not cross all our T’s and dot all our I’s all the time but we’re worker bees trying to protect and serve these people.”