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Ahead of Casino Opening, Springfield Planning To Put More Cops Downtown

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Although crime is down in the largest city in western Massachusetts, the head of the Springfield Police Department is hiring more officers and looking for an increase in the next city budget.

The Springfield Police Department is requesting a nearly $3 million increase in the department’s budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2017.

Police Commissioner John Barbieri said he is trying to reach a goal, announced a year ago, to increase the number of sworn officers in the department to over 500.

" The city council and the mayor have been nice enough to bump up our manpower in the last couple of years," said Barbieri.

Mayor Domenic Sarno and his city hall finance team are weighing the request from the police, along with those from other municipal departments and agencies, and are expected to recommend a fiscal 2018 budget totaling about $600 million in the next few weeks.

Throughout his tenure as mayor, Sarno has repeatedly said public safety is his top priority when it comes to making budget choices.  The city’s overall crime rate fell 13 percent last year, according to Sarno, who said efforts must continue to further reduce crime in “hot spots.”

46 cadets graduated from the police academy last fall, but the net increase of officers was less because of vacancies.

" We are currently attempting to put in a ( police academy) class of about 40 right now," said Barbieri, who explained that retirements and other attrition have left the department still short of the goal of 500 sworn officers.

The drive to beef up staffing in the police department comes as plans are being made to create a specialized unit in the Metro Center ahead of the opening of the MGM casino in September 2018.

Barbieri said the new unit will consist of 41 veteran supervisors and police officers who will work out of a new downtown police substation.  There are also plans to locate four police booths downtown that will be staffed round-the-clock.

" The goal is a holistic approach to that area to make it as safe and as quality an environment as we can for people to work, play and live in," said Barbieri.

Permanently putting a special unit downtown, where the casino is projected to draw 10,000 visitors a day, will mean police coverage in other parts of the city will not be reduced.

" Our intention is to man the Metro area and provide a level of service to the rest of the community that is uninterrupted from what they have come to expect," said Barbieri.

The new Metro Center unit is expected to cover an area roughly 10 blocks long stretching between the casino and Union Station, according to the city’s chief development officer Kevin Kennedy.

"It gets a little complex as we go through all the details, but rest assured we have a team of people working on it," Kennedy said.

As part of the host community agreement with Springfield, MGM has agreed to pay $1.5 million annually to supplement public safety.

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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