EXETER, R.I. (WPRI) — Exeter is the only Rhode Island community that doesn’t have its own police department. Efforts to establish one are ongoing, but not all residents are on board with the idea.
Town officials say Exeter’s volunteer police department was dissolved in the late 1960s. Since then, the Rhode Island State Police has been the only law enforcement agency covering the town.
There aren’t state troopers specifically assigned to Exeter. They respond from the Hope Valley Barracks in Richmond or Wickford Barracks in North Kingstown when calls come in.
“Although we do provide those services to the town, we do have a large interstate highway to be responsible for,” R.I. State Police acting Lt. Ronald Longolucco said. “We do have limited resources and our primary focus is going to be the interstate highway here in Hope Valley.”
In 1998, state police began an “Exeter residency program” which dedicated troopers to the town. But in 2008, due to manpower and budget constraints, those dedicated patrols were reassigned to the Hope Valley and Wickford Barracks.
The agency said dedicated Exeter patrols were assigned again from October 2014 until January 2017, but once again, budgetary constraints demanded reassignment of personnel to the other barracks.
“Our response times, barring any critical incidents, are very respectable,” Longoucco added. “But having a police force in the town would certainly, I imagine, response times would be quick, seeing as they are dedicated to that town.”
Exeter Town Councilman Manny Andrews said in the past, the town was billed roughly $300,000 per year for those state police services.
“I don’t think we’ve ever paid a penny,” Andrews said.
Gov. Gina Raimondo is looking to change that with an increase. Her budget proposal calls for Exeter to pay $440,000 annually for one corporal and two troopers.
Raimondo’s budget also includes a provision that would withhold state aid to municipalities that owe the state money. A Department of Administration spokesperson said the state is not looking to recoup past costs, however, only costs moving forward.
“I know if I lived in another community and my tax dollars were going to fund police protection or police presence in another town, I’d have a problem with that,” Andrews added.
Andrews is a retired Providence police officer. He moved to Exeter in 2014 and said the lack of a police department is a “giant void” in the structure of the town.
Andrews is now leading an eight-member task force that is studying the feasibility of launching one again.
“We are looking at a force of approximately eight to 12 officers including superiors,” he said.
The operational costs for a police department could have a price tag of more than $1 million per year, according to Andrews. That is causing concern among some Exeter residents.
“We don’t need it. We have low crime. It’s a quiet town,” said Michael Lefebvre, who’s lived in Exeter for roughly 20 years. “There is no issue. It’s just going to be a big expense.”
Lefebvre said Exeter leaders should focus on other challenges like balancing the town budget.
“There isn’t much going on and we do have great coverage by the state police,” he said.
The task force plans to complete the feasibility study by this fall.
Ultimately, Exeter voters will get the final say.