New police HQ dedicated to former chief

Published 8:49 pm Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Drivers on West Washington Street Tuesday morning slowed to a crawl as the Suffolk Police Honor Guard ceremoniously raised the American flag, trumpeted the National Anthem, lowered the flag and then folded it.

Reserving that flag, the Honor Guard then raised another American flag, along with the flags of Virginia and Suffolk, in front of the new police administration building, located at the corner of West Washington Street and Henley Place.

It was an emotional moment for many, but perhaps most so for retired Police Chief William Freeman. The new building was dedicated in honor of the former chief, who retired last year after 37 years of service to the Suffolk Police Department, including six at the helm.

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“It was really overwhelming and very humbling to experience that,” Freeman said later. A plaque in his honor was unveiled at the ceremony and later placed in the lobby of the building.

“You always want to do something important in life,” Freeman said. “Today kind of capsulized one chapter in my life.”

The $5.7-million building replaces the 47-year-old facility across the street, built when the Suffolk Police Department was responsible for law enforcement in a city only 10 square miles in size.

The new facility is 35 percent bigger than the old structure and includes administrative offices, central files, property and evidence processing, the forensics unit, criminal investigations, holding cells and more.

Freeman, who worked in the old building for more than three decades, said the new one will be a boon to the police department and, therefore, to the citizens.

“Undoubtedly it’s going to help,” he said. “Our city’s a growing city, and we have to upgrade and maintain the technology … to be able to effectively do our job.”

The honor of having the building dedicated to him was especially meaningful, Freeman said.

“I’m almost, for once, speechless,” he said. “I’m still letting the dust settle.”

Current Police Chief Thomas Bennett applauded the project, which was already well under way when he arrived for his first day of work in June. He noted the increase in space, the camera system watching the building inside and out and the secure parking for employees as some of the aspects of the building he’ll enjoy.

City leaders said the structure is only bricks and mortar without the people who serve inside.

“You’ve waited a long time for this building,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said. She added that cities can have great schools, businesses and recreational opportunities, but “without public safety, none of it will work.”

Councilman Jeffrey Gardy said he is pleased the department has more space now.

“I don’t know how the police department did their work,” Gardy said.

Johnson also recognized Freeman during the event.

“Our city would not be what it is without you,” she told him.

Freeman said he may not be in the department every day, but his heart still is with the officers who protect the city every day.

“While I may not be there physically, my prayers are continuously with each and every person in that department,” Freeman said.

The new building will be in use today. The old facility will become the home for another city department, possibly the voter registrar’s office, in the future.