Hailing it as a milestone for public safety in the largest city in western Massachusetts, the Springfield Police Department announced the opening of its first substation Wednesday.
As police officers and city officials stood on the sidewalk in front of the new home of the Springfield Police Department’s new Metro Unit Wednesday morning, police chaplain Neal Boyd christened the public safety initiative with a prayer.
"We ask your blessings God on this Metro Substation that is opening here," said Boyd. " Bless our officers. They are our peacekeepers. They keep the peace in our city."
The new substation is part of a plan to increase police presence and visibility downtown as the MGM Springfield casino is scheduled to open on August 24th and bring a projected 20,000 people a day into the metro center.
MGM is helping to pay for the beefed up public safety.
Located on the first floor of a high-rise apartment building on Dwight Street across from the MassMutual Center and a block from the casino, the substation will be the home base for a new police unit that is to have 40 officers and supervisors.
"What you see here is a substation, but what happens is the officers patrol outside the station. This is a gathering point, it is a meeting point," said Police Commissioner John Barbieri. " We are holding this press conference outside because that is where the cops will be."
Members of the new Metro Unit will be experienced police officers who have been specially trained in a form of community policing known as “C3.”
"The officers down here, men and women, are hand-selected, trained in customer service and in all aspects of C3 policing to work with the community and the businesses to make (downtown) a destination point," said Barbieri.
In addition to foot and bicycle patrols downtown by Metro Unit members, officers will be stationed at times in kiosks located along Main Street and at the entrance to Riverfront Park.
" As you move through downtown you won't just lose sight of one officer in a uniform, but what you will have is a sightline of locations where you know officers are," explained Barbieri. " So that should definately, hopefully, improve safety and security."
Evan Plotkin, who heads a commercial real estate company that owns and manages several buildings in downtown Springfield, said the new police substation will “without question” improve public safety.
"It is going to create more walkability downtown," said Plotkin. " When people are not afraid to walk ( from place to place) that alone is going to create a sense of safety. The police just reinforce that."
Mayor Domenic Sarno said the new police unit assigned to patrol downtown will not take cops away from the city’s other neighborhoods.
"This actually adds to all our neighborhood policing because we will continue with our (police ) academies and add complements to our neighborhoods," said Sarno.
Sarno said overall crime is down in Springfield by 45 percent over the last five years, but there is still a perception that the city is dangerous.
" No matter how many thousands or millions of dollars we spend in the media marketing Springfield, its word-of-mouth (marketing ) from people who say ' I came to Springfield and had a great time'," said Sarno. " This is our public safety component and I am very proud."
This year’s city budget funds a police department with 510 officers and supervisors, the highest number of cops in uniform in Springfield since the 1990s.