PITTSFIELD -- A new prisoner lockup facility that serves several police departments in the region is saving them time, expense, liability and aggravation in caring for detainees, according to local law enforcement officials.
"This has been extremely good for the Pittsfield Police Department and the city of Pittsfield," said Capt. David Granger, the Pittsfield department's uniform patrol commander.
Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas Bowler established the prisoner lockup within one of the cell units at the Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction. As a result, cities and towns have been relieved of much of the difficult burden involved with detainee care, Granger said.
"This allows us to focus more on police work, not on prisoner care," he said.
Prisoner care is a full-time job in itself, Granger said. The House of Correction off Cheshire Road has trained staff, including medical personnel and modern cell facilities, which most local police departments lack.
The 75-year-old Pittsfield police station on Allen Street has long been eyed for replacement because of its cramped quarters and cranky operating systems. There are times, for instance, when the building is too hot, which is tough on detainees as well as officers, Granger said.
"At least we [police officers] can leave at some point," he said.
The city police force makes between 1,600 and 1,900 arrests per year, Granger said. The department was stretched thin trying to deal with about 1,000 overnight detainees annually in the city's holding cells while simultaneously keeping up with police calls in the community.
"It is really difficult when it's busy in the streets and in the cells," he said. That combination takes a toll on shift supervisors scrambling to ensure that both areas of police work were covered.
Now, detainees who are intoxicated, violent, suicidal or have other issues that require they be held in secure cells can be transported to the regional lockup.
Bowler, who runs the jail, said a number of local police departments have used the lockup, including North Adams, Becket, Lee, Lanesborough, Dalton and Stockbridge. The overwhelming majority of prisoners are from arrests made by the Pittsfield Police Department.
"This is also used by the state police in Cheshire and Lee," Bowler said.
The service is being provided with available jail and correctional staff, Bowler said. It comes at no cost to the municipalities, he said.
Bowler said that most counties in Massachusetts have a regional lockup. One day, he said he hopes to secure state funding for a separate lockup facility that serves the entire county.
Dalton Police Chief Jeffrey Coe said the regional facility has been utilized by his department about 10 times since April. It has resulted in considerable savings in officer overtime to watch detainees, Coe said.
"When we have staff on cell watch, that can mean a lot of overtime," particularly on weekends and holidays, Coe said. Thus far, he said, Dalton has saved $2,500 in overtime costs, funding that can go toward investigations, community policing and other needs.
"This has certainly been beneficial in terms of salary and liability [concerns]," he said.
Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn said more than 50 percent of those arrested who must be held now are transported to the regional lockup.
"It's an efficiency for us in that we don't have to have an officer watch them," he said. "We don't have to feed them. And it's a huge liability protection for us. All in all, this is a great asset and safer for our personnel and for detainees."
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