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Police Department could see additional $3.5 million

Date: 6/6/2013

By Chris Maza

SPRINGFIELD — Count Springfield Police Commissioner William Fitchet among those pleased with Mayor Domenic Sarno's recommended fiscal year 2014 (FY14) budget.

Sarno presented his proposed $571.8 million budget on May 29, and with it suggested an appropriation of nearly $39 million for the Police Department.

That represents an increase of more than $3.5 million from FY13.

"I think the budget is a fair budget for public safety," Fitchet said.

Most notable, he said, was the fact that the Police Department would benefit from not only being able to retain all of its current personnel, but also the influx of new officers with the completion of a police academy this year.

"We have a 22-member recruiting class that is ongoing right now [and] scheduled to graduate on Sept. 4," he said. "We're pleased with the fact that the mayor allowed that funding to go through. Those positions will make up for some of the attrition losses we have had over the last couple of years."

In order to avoid layoffs in FY14, the mayor proposed in his budget the elimination of 11 positions that were vacant in the department.

Fitchet said the department currently has 33 vacancies with three or four more attrition-related vacancies expected in the next month and while the incoming cadets would put a dent in the issue, it would not fully resolve it.

"[The staffing level] is never really where I want it to be," he said. "I'm like probably every other department head; I could certainly use more manpower. The budgets over the last five years, as you know, have been trimmed down. It's not the mayor's fault, the governor's fault or the president's fault. It's the way the economy's gone."

Fitchet added that should the economy continue to show signs of positive growth, he hoped to have the opportunity to hire additional officers.

The addition of a casino to the downtown area could also create a situation in which more officers would be hired.

"If a casino does come to Springfield, that is certainly important to us to discuss with the mayor and the casino officials," he said. "We know that that could include some traffic problems and there may be a slight increase in some conduct in the downtown area that we would have to monitor, but all-in-all, we're hoping it will be beneficial to downtown Springfield."

In the meantime, he said, the focus becomes utilizing what is available as efficiently as possible.

"All police departments and public safety officials have to be lean and mean and try to apply their manpower the best way they know how and use the resources they have to their best advantage," he said.

In addition to personnel, the Police Department will be able to keep several ongoing public safety strategies, including the North End initiative and Operation BADGE in Forest Park. During his presentation, Sarno also said an announcement regarding a Mason Square initiative would be forthcoming.

The Quebec unit, which deploys officers in the city's schools, will include two officers that would rotate between the elementary schools.

"We'll have two additional officers from the recruit class that will allow for allocation of two additional officers to the Quebec team," Fitchet said. "It will make a total of 23 officers. We'll develop a plan with the superintendent of Schools and his staff regarding how we would want to deploy those officers.

"My intention is that there will be an enhancement of elementary school security ... the intent of adding those two officers is just that," he continued.

The Ordinance/Flex squad, which enforces all city ordinances including illegal dumping, unnecessary noise and unregistered or abandoned cars, would also be retained and the ShotSpotter technology will continue to be used and possibly expanded.