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Police presence sought
Friday, March 11, 2005
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SPRINGFIELD - The Police Commission has created a committee to work with downtown business representatives to ensure a stronger police presence when the convention center opens in September.

Efforts to market Springfield as a convention city are being hindered by the paucity of police officers downtown, according to Stuart J. Hurwitz, general manager of the facility, which will be known as the MassMutual Center.

The $71 million facility, which includes the expanded civic center, will open for convention business in September. Hurwitz said this week that when he meets with groups planning conventions, he has to be careful about when he takes them to the downtown Marriott and about what is going on across the street at Court Square.

Hurwitz, Russell F. Denver, president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, and Robert L. Turin, executive director of the Business Improvement District, asked the Police Commission Wednesday to increase police visibility downtown.

Commission Chairman Timothy J. Ryan said that it may be possible to increase visibility through better deployment of existing manpower.

He said he will appoint a committee that will include police Capts. Gerald M. Foley, who heads the community policing program, and Robert T. McFarlin and Charles A. Arpin, and commissioners William A. Hurley Jr. and Joanne Morales-Harrison. It will meet and work with the downtown representatives on increasing police visibility.

"We are very optimistic about the number of people the center will draw into the city and about the economic spinoff," Hurwitz said.

Denver said the problems are minor issues - such as drug dealing in Court Square and illegal parking - that would be discouraged by a more visible police presence.

Panhandling, car break-ins, youths congregating at the bus stop and a lack of maintenance of the area create an image inconsistent with what the city is trying to accomplish through the new civic center, Hurwitz said.

"Because the center will be opening at the end of September, we need to address these problems now," he said. "We want to bring back what we had a few years ago in terms of police presence."

He was referring to the time before budget cuts when the city had more officers assigned to community policing.

At one point, the city had a community police substation at the bus station, a mounted police patrol downtown and community officers patrolling on bicycle and foot.

The new committee, appointed by Ryan, will conduct its first meeting Tuesday at 3 p.m. in the Business Improvement District office at 1243 Main St. It is not open to the public.
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