PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has agreed to a plan to schedule regular police foot patrols in the North Street area, based on a longstanding request from Downtown Inc. and merchants.
"We're hopeful they can start next week to get more of a presence in the downtown," Bianchi said Tuesday.
Merchants have periodically requested foot patrols, "and the need was an observation I've made on my own," he said.
Police Chief Michael J. Wynn said foot patrols have been done periodically in recent years but haven't been scheduled on a regular basis for some time.
"Lt. [Jeffrey] Bradford is in the process of staffing the new detail now," he said. "If not this week, then I expect by the beginning of next week."
Bianchi said one or two officers will be assigned to the patrols, which likely will be scheduled both during daytime and nighttime hours along North Street.
"This will be overtime for now," Bianchi said. "It will be a special detail."
Officers will not only be able to respond to serious crimes, he said, but to "things that affect quality of life." He said that could include youths riding bicycles on the sidewalks or loitering.
"We just want the downtown to be clean and safe," Bianchi said, adding that the need is increasing along with activity in the downtown arts and entertainment district that surrounds North Street.
Wynn said this week that over the long term, the department will have to address a need for additional patrol officers. He told the Police Advisory Board on Monday that efforts to increase spending on special detail units like crime scene services -- plus an increase in special downtown events that require a police presence and the loss of some officers to injuries -- have left the patrol officer ranks stretched thin.
Radcliffe Harewood, chairman of the Citizen Advisory Committee, proposed a subcommittee to meet privately with the chief and discuss staffing needs with the goal of making a recommendation to the mayor and City Council. The motion was adopted, and a subcommittee will meet with Wynn to discuss PPD staffing.
"There is a dire need," Harewood said.
Even when overtime is available, Wynn said, it is sometimes difficult to fill a department schedule because of the need for additional officers.
"Patrol is lean right now," he told committee members.
During the fiscal year that ended June 30, the PPD was $130,000 over budget, Wynn said, and overtime pay was a factor. He said that overtime was used primarily to cover special events like Third Thursdays.
Bianchi said he couldn't commit at this point to additional funding for officers but would consider a recommendation from the citizen group. "Let's see what the needs are, what they come up with," he said.