A four-officer team of Lincoln police wielded hammers and paintbrushes to open a new Belmont substation following a string of high-profile crimes in the neighborhood.
Police officials hope the new office — in the basement of the Pet Care Center, which was set ablaze in 2017 by a serial arsonist — will keep officers in the neighborhood longer and improve their response to calls.
Since 2016, there have been six murders in the Belmont neighborhood. In the latest case, Stacy Talbot was shot in the chest and found in the street at 14th and Judson on Oct. 18, about two blocks away from the substation.
These killings and the arsons rattled neighbors, and Northwest Team Capt. Anthony Butler said he heard from many who wanted more of a police presence in the area.
Butler, who oversees police in the neighborhood, said a confluence of opportunity and determined officers helped ensure the new substation could be realized.
After bids for the project came in higher than expected, Butler, Sgt. Chad Barrett and Officers Bob Mangels and James Quandt decided it was important to make it happen on their own.
"That’s something they wanted to do to make that a go," Butler said.
The Northwest Team has had substations at Schoo Middle School in Fallbrook, inside Lincoln Fire Station No. 14 in the Highlands and the Carol Yoakum Family Resource Center in Air Park.
These substations serve as spaces for officers to work on reports, interview people, make phone calls and take breaks. They're not always there, and they're not designed for people to walk in and make reports like a free-standing station, such as the Center Team Station at 27th and Holdrege streets, Butler said.
In this case, the center's owner approached the department about the idea in spring 2017. After police got a tour of the facility, they sought bids on the renovation of the basement, which the center had used for storage.
The first bid came in over $23,000, so the request for proposals was tweaked. A second bid came in over $19,000.
Both were "no-gos," Butler said.
So he began talking with several officers, and they thought they could do the job for much cheaper, he said. Two of them had backgrounds in construction.
Creative scheduling and a few volunteer hours to flex schedules gave the four officers time to demolish the two-room layout and rip out a heating system that was no longer in use, he said. They hired a contractor to lay carpeting for $3,000, the only outside cost.
The officers finished the walls, painted them, put in new lights and brought in the furniture, Butler said.
The substation opened on Oct. 8, and its presence has already been felt.
“It definitely makes us feel safer in this neighborhood,” said Pet Care Center receptionist Paige Smercina.
With the Belmont substation, officers will no longer use the space in the Highlands fire station, Butler said.
This project isn't the first time Lincoln police have ventured beyond normal police work to complete a task, Butler said.
Occasionally officers help paint the other substations, he said. And before the opening of a new shooting range for officer training, a band of Lincoln police officers built the previous range.
"We do what we’ve got to do to get things done," Butler said.