Police outpost opens in Pittsfield's West Side

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PITTSFIELD — A new kind of police hub is officially open for business on Columbus Avenue, and it's just in time for crime's busy season.

The West Side Community Outreach Post, 314 Columbus Ave., is a place for residents who might not feel comfortable or might not have the means to go to the Pittsfield Police Department to report crimes.

The idea for the new office, which resides upstairs in the Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity building, sprang out of communitywide concerns following a rash of West Side violence last fall. It took about six months to launch the outpost, which now stands as a physical manifestation of residents working alongside police to bolster a sense of safety in the city's West Side.

The outpost will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays.

"At least in the beginning," said volunteer Christine Hamilton, noting the rotating staff of about 15 volunteers could fill the whole week with shifts if they wanted to do.

But three days a week is a good place to start, she said, "until we see how it goes."

At the space on Monday, a police-issued laptop, bolted to a desk by an upstairs window, sat ready to receive reports. Officer Bryan Betters, one of the West Side beat officers, came to introduce himself to volunteers.

"You're going to see his face a lot," Lt. Thomas Dawley said, gesturing toward Betters.

The West Side beat is known around the department as beat "203," Dawley said. Officer Darren Derby will also be making the rounds at the new hub, he said.

Coordinating the outpost has been "a big undertaking," Dawley said, "but we're here."

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He said he would do his best to put his officers in regular contact with volunteers, noting the department's call volume is already picking up with the warmer weather.

Dawn Giftos, community outreach and development manager for Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, called Monday a soft opening. She said she had only announced the center's opening via social media an hour beforehand.

Spreading the word about its offerings will be a process, she said.

"It's gonna take some time," Giftos said. "It's new to everyone."

Karen Roche, a community navigator for Working Cities Pittsfield and one of the center's volunteers, said she and her peers are building the program "from scratch." There have been community police centers in the past, officers said, but they were run by the Pittsfield Police Department — not by residents themselves.

"We are creating a whole new dialogue, a whole new conversation, a whole new way of handling things with our friends in blue," Roche said.

And now organizers in Morningside are looking to replicate the model, she said.

"There's a lot of groundbreaking stuff that you are all doing," Capt. Matthew Kirchner said. "And kudos to the other neighborhoods that want to start 'em."

Kirchner said he's eager to build a strong relationship between the department and volunteers.

"We know we have the commitment of everyone in the room — the community," Kirchner said. "That's really what we're excited about moving forward. I think we're much stronger together."

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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