Steven Valenti has owned and operated his clothing shop on North Street for more than 30 years and is asking the Police Advisory Committee to help bring back downtown patrols.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Police Advisory Committee is asking the mayor to hire additional officers to expand downtown foot patrols.
The committee met with Downtown Pittsfield Inc., who advocates on behalf of downtown merchants, on Monday and agreed that the foot patrols are worth the investment.
The committee will now craft a letter asking the mayor to budget enough for five additional officers to expand the patrols to include nights and weekends.
Mayor Daniel Bianchi had already authorized the Police Department to use overtime for daytime foot patrols.
But that has been a pricey endeavor, according to Police Chief Michael Wynn who previously reported the patrols are on pace to cost $108,000. There are about 20, eight-hour shifts being deployed each month, he said.
"This is a short-term, temporary detail on overtime," said Wynn on Monday. "This is above and beyond our operational needs. I don't believe overtime is the best way to do this."
With the budget process just beginning, the Police Advisory Committee will advocate for the hiring of four patrol officers and a sergeant, creating a downtown unit. Wynn projected it will cost more than $130,000 in salaries for the patrolmen but the sticking point will be the benefits packages.
"That's full coverage on two shifts," Wynn said, comparing it to the $108,000 spent on single, daytime patrols paid from overtime.
The city used to have downtown patrols but over time they were pared back because calls for service became greater in other parts of the city. Downtown Pittsfield President Robert Proskin says now is the time to bring them back because of the city's downtown revitalization efforts in recent years.
"We have a lot more people moving into our downtown," he told the committee, adding that 6,000 people work downtown. "We built it and they are coming. They are coming in droves."
DPI officials say the increased police presence sends a message that the city is safe and changes the perception others have of the city.
"We have an opportunity to transform Pittsfield to become a pedestrian city," said Wild Sage owner Jeff Winslow.
Wynn has previously said the call volume isn't enough for him to justify using his available resources downtown. He often would be directing his officers to other parts of the city. By using overtime, the downtown patrols aren't interfering with other operational needs — as would added staff.
Robert Proskin, president of Downtown Pittsfield Inc., said the city's downtown is growing and needs to be protected.
"They have a compelling argument and compelling reasons," Wynn said.
Business owners say you can't measure the impact of a downtown patrol. Steven Valenti, who owns Steven Valenti's Clothing for Men, said he remembers feeling much better about the city's downtown when the patrols were permanent. He said there was "less nonsense, less confrontation and less crime."
"You felt good. You felt comfortable because you knew your buddies were around," Valenti said. "I believe it makes a huge difference in perception and the feeling people get being here."
Proskin, who owns BBE Office Interiors, said there was less graffiti and trash when the foot patrols were active.
DPI particularly is pushing for night patrols to help when theaters let out and for the city to invest in surveillance cameras to help catch those who commit crimes or break into businesses. The organization also kicked around ideas of adding additional lighting and asking businesses to add their own security.
As for helping when theaters let out, Wynn put the onus on private businesses saying that nowhere else does a private business throw a large event and not hire their own security.
The committee is concerned with the overall staffing numbers and Wynn characterized the additional patrols for downtown as "the first bite of the apple." In the future, the Police Department can push for additional resources to help protect other areas.
"Downtown needs to be protected but we can't protect the 21st-century downtown with a 19th-century police force," Wynn said of the overall staffing numbers.
The Police Advisory Committee is launching a subcommittee to look at long-term staffing plans. In their initial glance, members found the need for at least seven additional officers in the coming years with eventually growing the staff by 20. The Police Department has a full staff of 90, but with training and disabilities, typically around 85 officers are available, Wynn said.