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Full-time downtown cop for Greenfield

GREENFIELD — The town’s police department will have a full-time patrolman walking, biking and riding along downtown streets all day beginning Thursday in an attempt to clean up Main Street and make it a more comfortable and inviting place for everyone, police say.

“We recently made the new position,” said Greenfield Police Lt. Todd Dodge. “This isn’t like the positions we’ve had there in the past. Officer Jason Haskins will be downtown for his entire shift each day. And eventually, we’d like to put more police down there with him.”

Dodge said most recently the department had placed Timothy Currier downtown with his dog, Roscoe, but Currier and Roscoe also had to respond to other calls throughout Greenfield because the department was short-handed, so people could never depend on when the downtown was being patrolled.

Instead, Haskins will spend every eight-hour shift he works in the downtown area, whether on foot, bike, or in his cruiser.

“We’re going to finally be there to take back the streets for everyone,” said Dodge. “We’re going to set some ground rules and make sure everyone plays by them.”

Dodge said it is not one reason, but many different kinds of complaints that have prompted police to make the move.

He said some of the biggest complaints in that area are vandalism, accosting, loitering, graffiti and people urinating and defecating near benches.

Currier began his downtown assignment in December 2011, but many merchants said they hadn’t seen much of him or any other officers over the past few months and were concerned about it.

Dodge said that was because the department needed Currier and others elsewhere.

Before Currier, Sgt. David Rice, who was a patrolman at the time, was the town’s downtown officer. He began his assignment in 2005 and stayed downtown for several years.

“(Rice) was a full-time officer dedicated to Main Street, but he was more of a liaison to the merchants,” said Dodge. “He took polls and surveys and tried to get a finger on the pulse of the downtown community. He was there to find out what the major concerns of the business owners were.”

Dodge said the police department has been designing and working on a plan to have an officer in the downtown area who is visible and attainable at all times.

Dodge said until the department can fill the other two shifts downtown, other officers will take turns spending time there, but will have to respond to other calls as well, just like Currier did.

“There’s lots of work to be done downtown,” he said. “This is about public safety, quality of life, business, and anything else police can help with.”

Dodge said Haskins, who has been with the department for more than five years, volunteered for the job. The lieutenant said Haskins and other officers who will be downtown will be wearing familiar police uniforms, as well as brighter uniforms so that people recognize them even more quickly.

“We want them to be seen,” said Dodge. “Officer Haskins will be doing a lot of interacting with people downtown. We want everyone to know he is there.”

Dodge said Haskins has been assigned to the downtown indefinitely.

“If I have my way, we won’t change this. We will always have an officer downtown,” said Dodge.

He said Haskins is expected to be on downtown streets from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, but his schedule will be flexible and will change as the department needs him there. So, if an officer is needed more in the early evening hours, Haskins will be there.

“We still don’t have a lot of manpower, but we’re working on that and hope we’ll be able to put more officers down there as time goes on,” said Dodge, who described Haskins as “confident, dedicated and energetic.”

He said Haskins will be downtown to respond when there is a problem, but also to figure out why certain groups are congregating at certain times of the day in certain areas. He said Haskins will also try to figure out what to do about that and help those groups find alternatives.

“This is not in response to hearing a homeless shelter is moving to Wells Street,” said Dodge. “We’ve wanted to do this for a long while. Also, most of the people who will be living in the homeless shelter are already here during the day. They come over from Montague City, so we know them already.”

ServiceNet’s 20-bed Franklin County Emergency Shelter will be moving from Montague City to Wells Street within the next month or so.

Dodge said the police department has had five or six people out on leave over the past several months but almost all have returned, so the department is ready to make these changes.

He said currently the department has 17 patrolmen, with only one out on leave.

“We’re still lower than we’d like to be, but this is better than we’ve had for a while,” said Dodge.

He said Haskins will patrol Main Street, downtown side streets and parking lots, the Energy Park, and any other areas in the downtown that have people concerned.

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