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New Substation Aims To Bring Community Policing Downtown

door to the Chicopee Police Substation

A western Massachusetts city is trying to make its downtown safer through the use of technology and what the police chief calls “grassroots community policing.”

 The Chicopee Police Department opened a new substation this week in a back office in the Chamber of Commerce building on Exchange Street in downtown Chicopee.  Police Chief William Jebb said the substation brings community policing to the city center.

" We are trying to break down barriers and engage the public," he explained. " We are inviting people to come here and discuss any issue they have with the neighborhood."

The substation was one of the responses to an uptick in crime downtown last year that police blamed on rival gangs of youths battling over turf for drug-dealing. Following two separate shootings downtown last September, business owners met with police to discuss how to improve public safety.

Jebb said the response was a “zero tolerance approach” that included flooding the area with police in uniform and undercover patrolling on foot and bicycle.

" If you were to talk to the residents they feel much safer," said Jebb. " A lot of the open criminal activity has now been pushed out of the center. We've affected arrests on targeted individuals and many have left the center area."

The city council authorized $700,000 for public safety initiatives downtown. Much of that money was used to install surveillance cameras at 11 locations downtown.  The cameras became fully operational in the last few months.

" The cameras have been extremely helpful," said Jebb.  " We have warrants out for some individuals arrests because of some activity that ( was seen) on those cameras."

Jessica Roncarati-Howe, the president of the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, said she is happy with how the city responded after the shootings.

"People feel safer. People feel heard. They feel their concerns have been answered by our city and our police," she said.

The substation is open 24/7, but a police officer won’t be there all the time. The plan is to staff the substation during the daytime with specially trained volunteers who graduated from the Citizens Police Academy courses the police department began offering last year.

Michael Wilk, the public information officer for the Chicopee Police Department, said based on experience at other substations, the volunteers will spend most of their time giving people directions and putting them in contact with city agencies to handle complaints. If a police matter does come up, they’ll call for the beat officer to come to the substation.

" In the event someone comes in with, for example, a domestic situation; somebody runs in seeking help, seeking refuge from a violent partner. They are trained to lock the door, take the person out of the area, and call right away for our officers to come," Wilk said.

Caroline Chicoine said she signed up for the Citizens Police Academy last year because she had always been fascinated by police work. When the call went out for volunteers to staff the downtown substation she jumped at the chance.

" Because I just love the community work and I live in the center, so it is my community also. I feel I could help out," she said.

Mayor Richard Kos praised the substation as an example of the city’s proactive approach to problem-solving.  He said the city will pay $250 a month to rent the space for the substation.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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