Investigator John Bassi shows the Police Advisory Committee a hardened tire track lifted during the investigation of a theft.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Crimes can't be solved in an hour time slot as television drama shows portray, but the city does utilize some of what the fictional investigators can do.
The Police Department's Crime Scene Services department can test hands for gunpowder, harden tire tracks to identify a vehicle or pull DNA from just a fingerprint on a wall. The city is one of only a few in the region who can do all of that testing in house.
"We handle all of the major crimes in the city," Investigator John Bassi told the Police Advisory Committee on Monday, as part of all departments presenting their jobs to the committee.
The department consists of only two people, Bassi and Investigator William King. When the two aren't on duty, they split time on call. From residential break-ins to homicides, one of those two is responsible for collecting and testing the evidence.
And all of that evidence piles up. Bassi said there could be more than 100 pieces of evidence in just a few months, all of which need to be kept through the entire trial. Additionally, they need to do forensics on vehicles but don't have a secure garage to hold them. (The city is soliciting bids for a feasibility study on a new police station.)
The office space they do have does not have ventilation, posing a problem with storing and using chemicals. With no elevator, large pieces of evidence need to be carried up the stairs for processing.
"We've carried an ATM up two flights of stairs," Bassi said.
If they have a bloody shirt, they don't have the equipment to dry it so it needs to air dry by hanging from cell bars.
Police Chief Michael Wynn said a vehicle dedicated for the investigators is needed to transport all of the equipment they need.
"We know we need to get them a separate vehicle," Wynn said.
The job certainly isn't always as exciting at television either. Bassi said the department is responsible for copying 911 recordings for court cases — 95 percent of which end up getting pled out — fingerprinting for private companies and making identification badges for City Hall employees. They are the only photographers in the department.
While the two officers can do a lot, there are times when the state police crime scene investigators are called in. Wynn says the level of investigation they can do in house is so important that he tries to keep special operations departments like this fully staffed, even it means having too few patrol officers.
"Patrol is lean right now," Wynn said.
However, Wynn said Downtown Pittsfield Inc. has asked the city for more officers downtown and the mayor agreed to pay for overtime to make it happen.
Staffing levels is always difficult because it goes beyond just a single budget, he said. Hiring additional bodies raises pension and other liabilities, which city officials often vote down.
Last year, the department was $130,000 over budget, but that came from overtime paid out — mostly for special events like Live on the Lake or Third Thursday. Last year, the city spent $160,000 in special events.
The Police Advisory Committee agreed to form a subcommittee to look closer at staffing options and develop a proposal to give to the mayor.
Also on Monday, the committee agreed to start holding meetings at the newly created community centers in public housing facilities. The committee supported the move as a way to help connect police with the residents in public housing and bringing the meetings there will allow resident organizations — such as the Westside initiative — to meet with them.
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