Workers were busy on Thursday removing the sign from the downtown police station on Pleasant Street. The station was ordered closed by New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell in the last fiscal year but managed to survive – that is, until now.

Mitchell said of the 38 largest police departments in Massachusetts, only New Bedford and Boston still have full-time district police stations. He said the station is obsolete because people no longer go to a police station to report a crime. He told WBSM's Phil Paleologos recently "there is something called a telephone."

"Regardless of where their locker is or where they put their personal belongings, they (police officers) patrol," Mitchell said.

His point was that a permanent structure is not necessary. I seem to remember that former Mayor Fred Kalisz made the same argument just before being defeated for re-election. Some lessons are never learned.

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Mitchell will argue that the new public safety building in the South End will open soon, and a North End public safety complex is under discussion. That may be true, but merchants and others in the Historic District are deeply concerned about life once the downtown police station closes.

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Police Chief Paul Oliveira told me the sign was removed on Thursday, and desk officers will transfer out next week. Oliveira said the plan is to keep the station open for limited service until further notice. Eventually, the station will close, but Oliveira doesn't know when.

Closing the downtown police station is shortsighted. It will increase response times and make many who live or work in the downtown area feel less safe. Perception is everything, especially if you are a politician.

Mayor Mitchell can denounce defunding the police all he wants, but closing a police station and eliminating police positions sure sounds like defunding the police to me.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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