Harley Lawrence

Harley Lawrence was found dead following a fire at a bus shelter in Berwick. RCMP have called his death suspicious. (Courtesy of Debbie Saltzman)

Friends of the homeless man found dead earlier this week in the small Nova Scotia town of Berwick are raising concerns about policing.

Harley Lawrence, 62, died in a fire early Wednesday morning at a bus shelter. RCMP have called his death suspicious.

The building that once housed the Berwick RCMP detachment is right across the street from the bus shelter.

The detachment closed two years ago. Now some are questioning the town’s decision to reduce police presence, as the nearest detachment is now 15 minutes away in Kingston.

"People around here know they have a certain amount of time before a police officer is going to be here,” said Walter Dodge, who was friends with Lawrence.

“Fifteen to 20 minutes, they can do a crime and be out."

Another of Lawrence’s friends said he believes the death could have been prevented had more police officers been on the streets of Berwick.

"I'd like to see somebod y... to have justice back and a cop station back in Berwick,” Anthony Doucette said.“The routine back, the cop station.”

But Berwick Mayor Don Clarke defended the move, saying it was about reorganization, not budget belt-tightening.

The Berwick RCMP detachment, when it was open, wasn’t staffed overnight, he points out. The fire at the bus shelter occurred around 2 a.m.

The town partnered with King’s County as part of a regional police service. Clarke said it means the town now gets better response times in the evening and overnight.

“Officers are on duty at whatever time,” he said.

“They arrive here in their car, they work out of their car, they go off duty. So we get them on the job the full shift, whatever that happens to be.”

Clarke said he hasn’t noticed an increase in crime in the town.