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Officers get new bikes for neighborhood patrol

Date: 8/24/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD - Springfield Police Sgt. John Delaney, the spokesperson for the department, described the newest tool in the department's arsenal as looking like the "Batcycle."

He wasn't exaggerating.

The five low-slung Piaggio motorcycles were customized for use by the Springfield police and serve a prototype for other departments. They made their official debut at a press conference Thursday morning.

With a distinctive reverse tricycle look - two wheels up front and one in the back - some people might mistake the new bikes as some sort of all-terrain vehicle. Dale Badura, the owner of Enfield Motorsports, explained the wheels add stability to the bikes that have automatic transmissions as well. A rider of one herself, she added the bikes have a top speed of 110 miles per hour and use far less fuel than a standard police cruiser at 60 to 65 miles per gallon.

Police Commissioner William Fitchet explained the five new motorcycles would be deployed downtown as well as to some neighborhoods. He said the use of the bikes would allow officers greater opportunity to interact with the residents and yet give them more flexibility to respond to emergencies than they have with walking patrols.

The bikes - at a cost of $9,500 each - were purchased with part of $99,000 grant the department received from the Department of Justice. According to Fitchet and Mayor Domenic Sarno, grants are becoming increasingly more important to the department.

The department is receiving a $1.25 million technology grant, Sarno said, that will be used to make "much needed" technology improvements at the department. He added the department has $5.1 million of grants "in the pipeline."

Brian Elliot, who writes grants applications for the department, said the department has applied for funding through the state that could bring 10 new officers t the force, Fitchet and Sarno both said the number of ten new officers would be an affordable amount for the city considering the department will be losing nine officers through attrition over the next two years.

Elliot said because the city has not applied for this grant previously, it is in a good position to receive funding. He expects the city will receive notification of the decision within 90 days.

Fitchet said the new officers would come from the existing list of candidates and would only require about three weeks orientation training.

Sarno said he wants to avoid hiring officers with grants - as was done in the 1990s - only to have to lay them off once the grant money is depleted.

"The city has to realize we can't hire people who would be laid off in two to three years," Fitchet said.