Wednesday December 5, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Police Chief Michael J. Wynn intends to get the ball rolling on the long-term goal of funding and constructing a much-needed police facility.

The chief secured a promise of assistance this week from the Police Advisory Committee, which agreed to write a letter of support outlining the acute need for a new facility and urging legislators and others to seek state, federal or other funding for the project.

Wynn said he recently was given the go-ahead by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi to explore funding options for a facility to replace the 73-year-old police department at 39 Allen St.

Bianchi said Tuesday that a new facility "certainly is a huge need" for Pittsfield.

The electrical box that controls many of the Pittsfield Police department’s phones is antiquated and partially unusable.
The electrical box that controls many of the Pittsfield Police department’s phones is antiquated and partially unusable. (Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
"The building is old and antiquated," he said, and his goal is to see a facility that is "set up for the 21st century."

The conditions at the current headquarters, Bianchi said, "affect everything the police do and police morale."

Wynn told advisory committee members that there currently are no obvious funding sources, such as federal economic stimulus money available in recent years for fire facilities. He said attempts were made to add language allowing funding for police stations, but that measure has not advanced out of legislative committee.

Initially, the chief said, the effort will involve political advocacy with legislators, and he acknowledged that the project will likely take years.

The mayor said he recently had "a very good conversation" about the issues and funding with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, and has spoken to the state's senators as well.

No design for a new facility, or decision on a location has been made at this point, Bianchi said. First, there would be a feasibility phase to formally study the city's options.

Capt. David Granger, the police department's Patrol Division commander, said Tuesday that the "the biggest problem with our facility is that we have basically outgrown it."

The department in 1939 had 60 officers, five reserves, a matron, and no female officers, according to statistics supplied by the chief, compared to 117 police and civilian employees today. The department handled just under 3,000 calls a year in 1939, compared to as many as 50,000 today.

The garage and areas around the station also are outmoded, Granger said, as the department has moved from an era when most patrols were on foot to one in which cruiser patrols predominate. There now are 40 police vehicles, compared to 14 in 1939.

In listing specific problems, Wynn and Granger cited Americans with Disabilities Act access issues, the lack of accommodations for female officers in the original building, as well as a dearth of electrical outlets; and the lack of central air conditioning and heating problems, which can lead to sweltering temperatures in some areas of the building.

Police Chief Michael Wynn is jump-starting efforts to get the 73-year-old Pittsfield Police headquarters replaced with a new, up-to-date facility.
Police Chief Michael Wynn is jump-starting efforts to get the 73-year-old Pittsfield Police headquarters replaced with a new, up-to-date facility. (Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

Insufficient space also affects victims police are attempting to interview privately and anyone being questioned or detained.

There have been repairs and renovation work over the years, Granger said, including a new roof and some new wiring of the building, but those could only provide a "Band-Aid" effect because of the age of the structure.

"I credit the officers who do a good job" despite the conditions, Granger said.

Over the past 20 years, he said, there have been attempts to get a new building funded and approved, or to acquire and renovate an existing building in the city, but none of those proposals came to fruition.

"We haven't always advocated enough on our own behalf," he said, but that is changing. Just the fact police are helping to build support for a new facility has provided a morale boost, he said.

City Council President Kevin Sherman said he looks forward to the point in the process when councilors can work with other officials and residents toward finding solutions to these issues.

"It is well known that we need a new station," he said.