Pittsfield Police Chief: Downtown Patrols Are Costly
|The Police Advisory Committee met for the first time in 2014 on Monday.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — With downtown police patrols on pace to cost more than $100,000 in overtime, Police Chief Michael Wynn is looking for a different, long-term solution.
Mayor Daniel Bianchi has allocated funds to pay officers overtime to increase patrols on North Street in response to downtown merchants' concerns.
However, Wynn said the patrols are becoming costly and he expect Downtown Pittsfield Inc. to address the Police Advisory Committee and the mayor to find a better solution.
In just a few months, Wynn said he has been able to deploy about 20, eight-hour shifts a month to patrol from the Colonial Theater on South Street to Berkshire Medical Center on North Street on foot.
But it has come at a cost of $27,000 already — expected to be $108,000 for the year.
"I could hire additional officers at that cost," Wynn told the Police Advisory Committee on Monday.
Wynn said he doesn't believe the call-for-service volume is enough to warrant the extra foot patrols but the mayor and the merchants want them, so they will continue to be deployed. They had been originally eliminated because there was higher call-volume elsewhere.
Bianchi cited the downtown patrols as a success in public safety during his inauguration address on Monday.
Wynn said he has talked with Downtown Pittsfield officials about the issue and expects them come before the advisory committee.
Wynn said he has reached out to Berkshire Community College to start a cadet program as one way of supporting the patrols. The college is considering providing credits for criminal justice students to help patrol North Street as cadets. New hires waiting for academy training could also be used to supplement patrols, Wynn said.
However, those solutions don't include fully badged officers and the city and merchants are going to want both. Sheriff Thomas Bowler said North Street is a very active area so the extra patrols there are worth it.
"There still is a great deal of activity on North Street," he said.
Wynn said Downtown Pittsfield Inc. is advocating for funds to continue the foot patrols and also increase staffing overall.
In other business, the committee is looking to streamline the ticketing process. Currently, there are four entities involved in traffic enforcement but all are on different systems, according to Chairman Alan Righi. A subcommittee has met with the Fire Department, Police Department, Parking Control and tax collector to find ways to streamline the system.
Righi said they could purchase handheld devices — costing $4,500 — that are the same as parking control officers use. That would put the departments on the same system. But Wynn said that may not be needed. The patrol cars already have computers so if they can just get the software onto those, they would only need to buy printers.
Righi said he will try to get the Parking Control Department in touch with the tech guys at the Police Department to see about integrating the software.
"We can always invest in the units but I am reluctant to do so if there is a more cost effective way to do it," Wynn said.
The Fire Department could follow suit, Wynn said. Currently, Police and Fire issue handwritten tickets while the Parking Control officers have a computerized system.
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