PITTSFIELD, Mass. — It's been a month since on-duty Pittsfield police officers have incorporated a change in their daily routine: for 15 minutes each shift, officers leave their vehicles and walk a selected portion of their beat.
Known as the "park and walk" initiative, officers on the day, evening, and midnight shifts are all expected to attempt one 15-minute walk, said Police Chief Michael Wynn. As of Nov. 26, officers registered a total of 293 park and walk details throughout the city.
"The officers can call in anywhere in their sector. If they're off sector, they can stop anywhere downtown," he said. "The expectation is that it should be done once per shift."
Mayor Linda Tyer said the exercise serves to enhance the relationships that officers have with community members.
"Pittsfield has officers who are committed and dedicated to their profession. We have seen in their interactions ranging with that of our youth to senior citizens that they truly care about the community they serve. I know that this will be one more opportunity to demonstrate that same care and concern."
The concept isn't a new one for Pittsfield. In the 1990s, officers regularly engaged in foot patrol, said Wynn. However, the total elimination of funding for community policing in 2007 put a halt to this kind of patrol.
In recent years, there have been continuous conversations on community policing in Pittsfield and requests for officers to be assigned to walk patrol – a move that Wynn notes requires added manpower due to the necessary replacement to fulfill the loss of a vehicle patrol.
However, the 15-minute park and walk is feasible for a department which at 87 officers is still understaffed and the plan doesn't require additional funding.
"Because we're not taking that resource from the entire shift, everybody can participate to the best of their ability. If they need to revert to their cruiser to address a situation, they can," Wynn said. "Also, the nice part is we are able to operationalize this exercise with zero impact on the budget."
Wynn says the initiative has been welcomed by officers. "The reception has been positive," he said.
Lt. Matthew Kirchner agrees.
"I like interacting with the public, from business owners to pedestrians. We get to talk to people and listen to their concerns," he said. "I think it's proven to be valuable, given the personnel constraints that we have. We're doing a work-around to make it work for the community."
For now, Wynn said the park and walk initiative will continue to be a part of the department's engagement strategy and will be continuously monitored.