The coronavirus pandemic is about to have a significant impact on public safety in the City of New Bedford.

Mayor Jon Mitchell has informed the New Bedford City Council that the downtown police district will be "consolidated and relocated to police headquarters in the City’s West End." Mitchell said some of the savings "will be used for important investments in the Police Department including the necessary replacement of aged police vehicles and enhanced staff training."

Mitchell said the use of district police stations is outdated and that only New Bedford and Boston operate round-the-clock district or satellite stations. Fred Kalisz argued that point once too, remember? It cost him his job.

Mitchell said the New Bedford Fire Department will be impacted by the belt-tightening as well, and that "Engine 8 will be decommissioned, and 10 vacant firefighter positions eliminated." Mitchell said Engine 8's crew will be redeployed and will not result in the closing of a fire station. Money saved "will be used to assess the future configuration of fire stations in the North End of New Bedford, as was completed for the South End," according to Mitchell.

Mitchell has already been hammered by his critics over rolling blackouts and the decommissioning of Engine 11. This is going to be a tough sell.

Mitchell said his plan will prevent layoffs or disruption of services.

The City of New Bedford relies heavily upon state aid to exist and pay its bills. The pandemic has decimated state revenue and will surely have a significant impact on how much local aid will be distributed to cities and towns. The state is still hemorrhaging at this point so it is impossible to say just how drastic the reduction in local aid will be. It will be bad. 

Since I often have trouble balancing my checkbook, I will leave it up to the keyboard warriors to decide whether the money is there to continue funding public safety at the current level or whether the adjustments made by the mayor are necessary. From my vantage point, it appears the administration has limited options.

I look forward to the debate.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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