Technology, staffing top topics when Fitchet visits 16 Acres
Date: 11/1/2010Nov. 1, 2010
By Debbie Gardner
Assistant Managing Editor
SPRINGFIELD -- Police Commissioner William Fitchet highlighted proposed technology upgrades, ongoing community outreach and concerns about police staffing during his annual visit with the 16 Acres Civic Association on Oct. 19.
He also made reference to the recent revelation that Springfield had been victimized by a serial killer, plagued by illegal dumping and dogged by the story of police brutality in reference to the case against former police officer Jeffery Asher.
"You don't get a serial killer as prolific as this killer," Fitchet said of Alfred Gaynor. "We think we cleaned up eight to 10 murders."
"Springfield, Mass. . can you believe that kind of serial killer?" he added.
Using the quality-of-life issue of illegal dumping, and the way cameras were recently employed to catch 11 illegal dumpers on Indian Orchard's Moxon Street, Fitchet made a case for utilizing technology to step up policing as part of the city's overall four-year plan.
"My vision for the four-year plan was to expand technology to help the police do their job," Fitchet said, adding that once purchased, any new technology becomes a static cost to the city and the department.
He spoke specifically about increasing the use of a listening device technology called Shot Finder, which is installed in heavy crime areas in groups of three, allowing the police to triangulate on the sound of gunfire.
"We can pin down the spot within 10 feet," Fitchet said. He added that the device allows dispatchers to send out a call to a nearby unit in real time.
"The cruiser arrives before anyone calls 911," Fitchet said, adding it often allows officers to collect evidence before bystanders contaminate it.
"I want to expand that kind of technology. I thought if we could blanket the city, it would give the city a blanket of defense. You may not see officers all the time, but you know that they are listening," Fitchet said.
Pointing out how video cameras helped the London police investigate the terrorist bombing in their city, Fitchet advocated for more video cameras for Springfield as part of the four-year plan.
"Blanket them, as long as they are constitutionally accepted," Fitchet suggested. "We won't have them peeking in people's windows, but in public areas."
He added that the department has received $5 million in grant monies in the past six months specifically to upgrade their technology in the field.
"We want to expand the Shot finder and video camera use [with this money]," he said.
He also talked about other planned uses of technology within the city, such as the installation of traffic-monitoring cameras.
"It's a couple of years away, and it take a lot of money, but cameras are being put up to help control gridlock," he said, referring to the traffic jams he encounters daily on his trip from the 16 Acres neighborhood to the police station. "These cameras will feed to the DPW and a person manning the camera [feed] can change the sequence of the lights [to reduce backups]."
Fitchet said the department has also recently stepped up its community outreach through "Blue Night" deployments, with officers getting out of their patrol cars and going out to meet the public at stores and in shopping plazas.
"The best thing a community can do is get to know their officers and have them know you on a first-name basis when they see you walking down the street or out shopping," he said.
The "Blue Heat" deployment, an early-morning raid that targeted prostitution, and indirectly, the drugs that are often part of the prostitution trade, was an example of the department focusing on a quality-of-life issue for a city neighborhood.
"The Blue Night and Blue Heat deployments are meant to work hand-in-hand to show that [the police] are on the job, are working hard, and are approachable," Fitchet said.
Police staffing levels were another area Fitchet discussed, in particular how it affects public perception of the department and its responsiveness.
"In 2009, we had 181 more police officers than we have right now," he said. "We have 31 vacancies right now, and that inhibits our ability to respond efficiently."
He said the reduction in staffing necessitates the department prioritize calls, responding to the most life-threatening situations first.
"The city is 33 square miles and our mission hasn't changed, we still have to man the city 24/7," Fitchet said, adding that officers often meet with disgruntled citizens asking "what took you so long?" when responding to some of the quality of life calls.
He said the mayor recently OK'd funding to fill at least 25 of those open positions on the force and the department is hoping to start a new academy class by the end of the year.
When asked about the Jeffery Asher case and his retirement pension during the question-and-answer portion of the evening, Fitchet said that issue was out of his hands.
"Any public employee can apply for retirement, disability or regular retirement. I can't control it, the mayor can't control it, the DA can't control it," he said. "Three doctors [in Eastern Massachusetts] make the evaluation regarding a disability retirement."
Asked why it took so long for Asher's case to come to trial, Fitchet said it was delayed at the request of the DA.
"When he asks, we have to do so," Fitchet said.