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Greenfield businesses pleased with police presence

GREENFIELD — There have not been as many problems with idle people fighting, blocking sidewalks, swearing or bothering passersby since the town assigned a full-time police officer to Main Street from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day, according to Greenfield’s police chief and some Main Street merchants.

The full-time officer was assigned to Main Street a year ago and while some merchants have said they haven’t seen the officer near their stores much, they also say they’ve noticed the streets have been quieter and that there have been fewer loiterers. In recent weeks, some of that has been attributed to the cold weather that discourages those who hang out during the day in warmer times.

Provisional Police Chief Joseph Burge said groups seem to congregate in front of or to the side of the Winslow building on the corner of Main and Wells streets, at the top of Miles Street, and near the Mohawk Mall.

Burge said the problem with patrolling the downtown is that the officer cannot move people along if they aren’t doing anything to bother others.

“People have a constitutional right to stand where they want to stand, as long as they aren’t bothering others, riding skateboards or bicycles on the sidewalks, or blocking the way,” said Burge. “The officer is downtown to make sure they aren’t doing those things.”

Burge said there is an officer downtown, not always visible, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and then another from 3 to 11 p.m.

“The problem is, we are short staffed, so when I need the officer to respond to something serious in another part of town, they have to leave the downtown for a while,” said Burge.

“I got a letter from the Greenfield Business Association thanking us for the police presence and telling us that it is definitely helping,” he said.

Burge said he had 18 people assigned to patrol, three lieutenants, two detectives and one court officer and recently hired two more full-time officers. One of the 26 is on light duty and another is on medical leave.

There are also five command staff on the Greenfield force, including Burge. One of the five is on medical leave.

“We have to cover all of Greenfield 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Burge. “We all do all sorts of jobs to make sure everything gets done.”

The police chief said it will probably be even quieter downtown as the new year begins and stay that way through the winter because of the cold.

“It’s always quiet this time of year because people are cold and they find places to go,” he said.

Burge said the majority of the problems police have responded to downtown most recently have been fighting among those standing on the street and calls about people asking for money.

“That’s always going to happen,” he said.

Winslow

John Counter, executive director of the Greenfield Housing Authority, which through Greenfield Housing Associates oversees the low-income Winslow kitchenette apartments, said the authority has been working diligently to make sure Winslow residents are not contributing to the problem.

“They do hang out outside, but we’re keeping an eye to make sure they aren’t causing trouble,” said Counter, who said cameras have been installed inside and outside of the building.

“We have had five evictions since we reopened last year after the renovations were completed,” said Counter. “Our residents know we are taking quick action when there is a problem. We are trying to control who comes into the building and how our residents and their visitors act inside and directly outside of the building.”

Counter would not say why the five were evicted because of confidentiality reasons, but said the housing authority has developed a stringent screening process.

“There’s a huge demand for single-room occupancy,” he said. “We have 115 on our waiting list.”

Counter said after the addition was built and renovations were completed, the Winslow was able to accommodate 55 residents, which is about double what the former Harco Rooms did before the project.

He said 13 residents are women.

Counter said tenants seem to be trying hard to follow all of the rules.

“We are still trying to create a tenant association,” said Counter. “We have a lot of residents who are excited about that and want to be a part of making this a good place to live.”

Counter said there is also a full-time manager in the building during the day.

“We pretty much have just been experiencing the routine issues you would expect,” said Counter. “Those include allowing people into the building who shouldn’t be here and fighting amongst themselves.”

Merchants’ view

Mayor William Martin said he will continue to work with police to keep some sort of police presence on Main Street.

“That will be a priority,” said Martin.

“We all just have to keep reminding ourselves that we can’t take away people’s constitutional rights, so there’s only so much we can do,” said Martin. “I have been and will continue to keep working with social service agencies to get help for everyone who needs it.”

Martin said the good news is that some of the homeless who lived in what was once known as “The Jungle,” the wooded area behind buildings along the south side of Main Street, are now residents of the Winslow.

“We found them a place to live and even though some of them are still hanging on the street, they are at least not homeless any longer and aren’t out there as much or as late at night,” he said.

Debra Roberts, co-owner of Home Furnishing Co. on Main and Wells streets, which is located across the street from the Winslow, said she has noticed things have been better on Wells and Main. She said the streets aren’t quite as congested, but didn’t know whether to attribute that to a downtown police officer or the low temperatures.

“The noise level is much better and it seems the fighting has slowed, even stopped,” she said. “People are still hanging out, but there don’t seem to be as many.”

Roberts said a few of the Winslow residents have been very helpful to the furniture store.

“They really look out for us and we appreciate that,” she said.

Mary Walsh-Martel, owner of Magical Child, which is located on the street-level floor of the Winslow building, said she has noticed things have been better, but also said she isn’t sure of the reason, but believes it might be a combination.

“The minute you put a police officer on the beat, on foot, things get better,” said Walsh-Martel. “I was so busy over the holidays that I didn’t really pay attention to what was going on outside, but I do know that it gets better during the winter, when temperatures are colder.”

Walsh-Martel said she hopes the town keeps a police officer downtown.

Patti Waters, one of the managers of Green Fields Market, said the co-op first took it upon itself more than a year ago to cordon off the area on Main Street where it has outdoor seating.

“It was very necessary,” said Waters. “We’ve seen a great change since we did that and then a police officer came downtown. I really hope they keep one down here.”

Waters said businesses with outdoor seating have a unique responsibility to take action themselves, but people knowing that a police officer is traveling Main Street by foot is quite a powerful deterrent.

“We’re grateful for the town’s help and hope they realize how important police presence is down here,” she said.

Over the past couple of weeks, a Recorder reporter tried to talk with some of the people who stand alone or in groups along Main Street each day, but there was no interest in talking with the press.

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