Many of Gloria Merrick’s clients at the Latino Hispanic American Community Center (LHACC) are walkers.
They come to and from the center, and most other places in Allison Hill, on their feet. For some, they are unable to get a license; others don’t have access to a car.
This may not be too big of an issue if they just need to swing by the corner store or walk to church. But, if a visit to the Harrisburg Police Bureau is needed, an Allison Hill resident is looking at an over 20-minute walk.
At least, that’s how it has been.
For many years, Allison Hill had a police substation on this spot on S. 15th Street. It eventually fell into disuse and was shuttered.
A few years ago, the bureau decided to reopen the station, but the building was beyond repair. So, a new plan was hatched to demolish the old precinct and replace it with a prefabricated structure.
In December last year, funded mainly through a federal Community Development Block Grant, pre-built units arrived on trailers to be assembled. The city was looking at a $1 million project that officials hoped would be finished within a few months.
However, with numerous complications, the substation construction wasn’t completed until September. It should be open to the public by the end of the year, said Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse.
“A lot of people in this community already know this as the police substation,” said Cpl. Josh Hammer, the bureau’s community policing officer. “We are re-putting our flag down.”
This time around, Hammer and his counterpart, Blake Lynch, the bureau’s community policing coordinator, will spend most of their time in the Allison Hill station as opposed to the downtown station.
“This will help the community policing team develop relationships,” Papenfuse said.
Within the building is an entrance area with a reception desk and meeting room for civilians and officers to talk in private. In the back section sits a roll-call room, locker room, kitchen and office for both Hammer and Lynch.
With 24/7 staff, community members will be able to speak with officers and report crimes at their convenience. However, Hammer reminds residents to still call 9-1-1 for emergencies.
“We really want it to be open to everybody to come through,” he said.
Papenfuse stated that, based on how this model in Allison Hill works, the city may consider a similar substation for Uptown Harrisburg. They are currently looking at relocating the downtown station to Uptown, but, if that doesn’t happen, a substation would be an option.
With the substation as a symbol, the bureau has a commitment to being available and having a strong presence in the Allison Hill community, said Lynch.
“I think we will see a lot more foot traffic and the opportunity to connect with residents in this community—which often does feel forgotten,” he said.
This is precisely why Merrick is excited to see the substation back in action. With LHACC located, as she would say, in the heart of Allison Hill, she hopes that more people see the potential in the community.
“We will be able to expand our relationship [with the police] further because of the close proximity,” Merrick said. “It could also take away that stigma that the police only come out when something is wrong.”
Not only will Hammer, Lynch and other officers be going door-to-door to talk with neighbors, but residents also will be invited to a picnic area that will be constructed in an adjacent lot by next summer.
“Imagine having your birthday party at a police station,” Lynch said smiling.
He explained that their plans include hosting cookouts and movie nights for the community in an effort to foster relationships.
The Allison Hill police substation will also help decrease response times by officers. There is a room for officers to file reports, saving them from making the trip downtown, which can be time-consuming and aggravating. This way, they have more time to spend in the community, responding to needs.
“Some of the best conversations I had with citizens when I was a young patrol officer were right here at the Hill CP,” Hammer said. “I specifically remember a few conversations that were really positive, and I think the only reason those conversations developed was because of the Hill CP. I’m hoping some of our younger guys and our older guys will have the same experience.”
Through conversations such as these, Merrick hopes that not only residents will benefit, but so will officers.
“We can have a cultural influence on them,” she said. “We can make it more diverse in its delivery and service.”
The Allison Hill substation is placed in a neighborhood familiar with crime, and Lynch has talked with many residents who are tired of seeing shootings and drug deals on their street. A sense of relief came with the news that the substation would be back in operation and officers would be on regular walking patrols.
Lynch sees the substation’s presence functioning as a crime deterrent, but also as a sense of security for everyone else—two sides of the same coin. But, as he stated earlier, this is a community that is often viewed negatively or neglected, so gaining people’s trust may take time.
“The trust is going to have to be earned, more so than just putting up four walls,” Hammer said. “This is a step in the right direction.”
The Allison Hill police substation is located at 313 S. 15th St., Harrisburg.