The city of Pittsfield is looking into collaborative options for police foot patrols in its downtown.
Responding to requests from downtown businesses for a more visible police presence, members of the Pittsfield Police department began regular foot patrols throughout the downtown district this past fall. Chief Mike Wynn oversees the 85-officer department, which operated on an $8 million budget in fiscal 2013.
“The way that the patrol is structured now, it is overtime,” Wynn said. “If we wanted to build it into our staffing model, because of the way our patrol shifts rotate, in order to provide coverage we would need four dedicated officers plus a supervisor to give full-time coverage on two shifts.”
Mayor Dan Bianchi’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal includes roughly $14.5 million, or 11 percent of the entire budget, for public safety costs. In 2013, the fire department’s budget was more than $6 million. Bianchi says he understands the need for the downtown police presence, but the money just isn’t there to assign full-time officers to a regular shift on that beat.
“What the chief had the suggested was that would be the appropriate model for coverage for downtown patrols,” Bianchi said. “However, the budget is just not going to allow that to happen. So there are creative, innovative, interim steps that we can take.”
Chief Wynn says the foot patrols will continue to be covered by overtime costs, which are on track to exceed $100,000 this year, until a change is made. Wynn says one of the ideas being considered is using potential department hires.
“Right now we’re looking at the creation of potentially a cadet program which would be utilizing police officer hires between the time they are vetted and background checked and the time they go to the academy as kind of a force multiplier,” Wynn explained. “They wouldn’t have any police powers, but we may use them in some capacity to augment our downtown presence.”
Another option, suggested by the organization Downtown Pittsfield Inc., is setting up what Wynn calls an ambassador program. He says the department would work with some of the 108 criminal justice students from Berkshire Community College studying at its Pittsfield campus.
“Similar to a community policing program we used to run in the late 1990s, early 2000s using civilians, not department employees,” Wynn described. “Give directions, provide information, but also have communication with the police department. For that program we’re trying to work with Berkshire Community College, but it’s at the very beginning planning stages at this point. We are trying to figure out if we can do both.”
Wynn says both options would involve some sort of uniformed, identifiable presence the public could recognize. Bianchi says the city will continue to have its own officers on the foot patrols when they are available and if the budget allows it.
“You can’t have an event with 1,000 people and not have some sort of police presence,” Bianchi said. “But how do you afford that? So I think if we have collaboration with the downtown business group, Berkshire Community College and the police department we can create an environment that’s welcoming, but yet is safe.”
Chief Wynn says the department has proposed a separate overtime line item for this year’s budget to pay for police presence at downtown events like Third Thursdays, which would be separate from the downtown patrols. The recently re-activated Police Advisory Committee is also conducting a feasibility study to help decide whether to build a new police station, as the current one is nearly 80 years old. At the committee’s request, the city also hired a crime analyst in December.