The city of Springfield, Massachusetts plans to hire 59 police officers this year, the largest addition to the city’s police department in 20 years. Along with the additional officers comes a new plan to deploy more cops downtown.
The Springfield Police Department will create the Metro Policing Area, a special unit that will operate permanently along the downtown Main Street corridor between the location of the future MGM casino and Union Station.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said the goal is to have the officers hired, trained, and deployed well in advance of the anticipated arrival of millions of new visitors annually in downtown Springfield.
"Having a strong police presence, not only in our downtown, but in our neighborhood areas brings that sense of investment and security," said Sarno.
Union Station, which is undergoing an $88 million renovation is scheduled to open at the end of this year as a regional transportation hub. Additional passenger train service from Connecticut is expected to begin in 2017. The MGM casino is scheduled to open in the fall of 2018.
One feature of the new public safety initiative will be the installation of four booths along Main Street that will be continuously staffed by police officers.
" You are going to have some innovative policing in our downtown area," said Sarno. " I call it ' cop in a box,' areas where people will see police officers 24-7."
The exact locations of the police booths have not been finalized. No date is set for the launch of the metro policing initiative. The new police academy is scheduled to begin in May with graduation in November.
Sarno said annual payments to the city from MGM and a rising property tax base means the city can afford to hire the additional police officers.
Sarno said the metro policing initiatives will not come at the expense of public safety in other parts of the city. He said having a permanent large police presence downtown means officers should not have to leave their neighborhood patrols when there are 911 calls for a problem downtown.
Springfield Police Commissioner John Barbieri began a reorganization of the department when he took over in 2014 that has shifted more officers from investigative and desk work to patrol duties. He has also emphasized increased community involvement and communication with the police.
City Councilor Tom Ashe, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, has held meetings recently in several city neighborhoods to discuss crime. He said he hears a lot more compliments about the police now than complaints.
" There is great openness and communication, where people are getting their problems solved," said Ashe. " It has been a chance of course for the police department and it is really great."
In the late 1990s, Springfield had more than 600 police officers. When federal grant money ran out in 2003, close to 100 officers were laid off. Retirements and resignations further shrunk the size of the police force to under 400 officers.