Monday August 13, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield is poised to receive nearly $268,000 in state and federal grants to enhance its police operation, especially traffic enforcement, make the city's art gallery more energy efficient and increase residential fire safety.

The state awards include $149,190 from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security toward funding the Pittsfield Police Department's 9-1-1 emergency dispatch service.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources has granted the city $92,787 to fully fund the installation of a natural gas heating system at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts. City officials say switching the three-story building from electric heat to natural gas will save taxpayers about $9,000 annually.

One of the two federal grants is $24,793 from the U.S. Justice Department, which will allow city police to purchase additional high-tech cameras to quickly identify traffic scofflaws by way of their license plate numbers. The final $1,000, from the Federal Emergency Manage ment Agency (FEMA), is headed to the Pittsfield Fire Depart ment to promote the use of home fire sprinkler systems.

If the City Council Tuesday night votes to accept the four grants, the money will be spent within the current fiscal year, according to city officials.

Pittsfield Police Chief Michael J. Wynn says the 9-1-1 grant, $8,000 above the 2012 award, will help defray the annual salaries of its 13 emergency dispatchers for fiscal 2013.


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Wynn noted that the city has received the annual grant for many years, also paying for new and updated equipment for the dispatch center.

As for the Justice Depart ment grant, city police will spend the money on a pair of Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) systems; one to be used in a police cruiser, the other to be pole-mounted along one of the city's four thoroughfares.

According to Wynn, the ALPR cameras record the license plates of passing vehicles. The photographs are immediately tied into a database of plates of interest to authorities giving the patrol officer probable cause to pull over the driver.

"There are some things technology is better at than humans and quickly reading license plate numbers is one of them," said the police chief.

Pittsfield police have had good results with the initial ALPR system it purchased more than a year ago.

"On a day-to-day basis, [ALPR] will get 5 to 10 hits mainly of plates belonging to drivers with revoked auto insurance or a suspended license, the most common offenses," said Sgt. Mark Trapani.

In addition to traffic enforcement, the city also wants to enhance the energy efficiency at the Lichtenstein Center on Renne Avenue by converting the three-story building to natural gas heat. The nearly $93,000 state-funded project, if approved by the City Council, is expected to be completed by winter.

The $9,000 in energy costs savings is based on the net result of the center cutting its electricity use by 75 percent, according to James McGrath, the city's parks and open space manager.

"We're continually spend money to slowly address the least energy-efficient city buildings," said McGrath, who is overseeing the project.

He said the Berkshire Athenaeum is next in line for an energy upgrade.

Meanwhile, the Pittsfield Fire Department will use the FEMA grant to cover the cost of a media campaign to encourage city homeowners to install fire suppressant systems. City fire officials can sprinkle its public service announcements among local print and broadcast outlets.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.