standing Charlestown Town Hall

CHARLESTOWN — Members of the Town Council have approved the use of up to $325,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding to purchase a new mobile command unit for the Charlestown Police Department.

The council voted unanimously this week to approve use of ARPA funds for the purchase, which is estimated to cost between $250,000 and $332,000 based on a survey of prices provided to the Town Council by Charlestown Police Chief Michael Paliotta and Lt. Philip Gingerella. The hope is that by utilizing the funds now, the department will be able to acquire the equipment before inflation causes prices to rise further.

The purchase will give the Charlestown Police Department a tool that will allow them to phase out use of the 17-year-old command vehicle that has begun to degrade more rapidly after the past few years.

“The unit was bought in 2005 and has multiple wear-and-tear issues to include; chronic brake issues due to corrosion and rust, electrical issues due to infestation and age along with broken components due to age and usage,” Gingerella said in a memo provided to council members. “The technology in the vehicle is old and outdated, and the overall setup of the vehicle does not meet our current and future needs.”

Council President Deborah Carney said the town had initially heard the request as part of an ARPA workshop earlier this year, but only recently received another payment from the state — although the funding is federal, it is being administered through the state of Rhode Island — which allowed the town to have enough money in its coffers to make the purchase.

The town received a payment of $409,000 earlier this month and has now been given $1.57 million of the $2.3 million in total funding that the community is expected to receive.

For the department, Paliotta told the council earlier this year that the mobile command post has been a valuable asset for the agency, having been used in extreme weather situations including for hurricanes and blizzards, during power outages and at community events.

In the days following Hurricane Sandy, the Charlestown Police Department used the vehicle for over a week as a mobile town hall in the heavily damaged Charlestown Beach area. The tax assessor and building officials also used the vehicle as a checkpoint for residents wishing to access their damaged property. In 2019, the mobile command was also used during a multi-agency search of the Francis Carter Preserve for a wanted murder suspect from Massachusetts.

The command post is also used at the annual Charlestown Seafood Festival and Rhythm and Roots Festival as well.

“The vehicle provides officers with a place to complete reports, conduct operational meetings and change out batteries and equipment,” Gingerella said. “It also offers a cool place to rest or eat along with being a visible presence for citizens who need police services or to deter a possible bad actor.”

Gingerella’s research provided the council with documents to indicate that a new mobile command post would provide Charlestown police with “a modern and capable vehicle to assist in managing our large-scale events and incidents” as well as responding to any major emergency or mass casualty incident in the region.

Over the course of the past few months, the police said Gingerella had reached out to three top vendors in order to get estimates. Two dealers offered packages between $275,000 and $325,000, while the third had a more varied estimate that ranged from as low as $250,000 to as high as $332,000, according to police.

“At this time, a reasonable estimate based on early research and communication with the vendors would be $250,000 to $350,000,” Gingerella said in his analysis. “Inflation, COVID and supply-chain disruptions could affect the final price when we select a vendor and finalize our plans.”

There was no available timeline of when the new vehicle would be in service. Police indicated that they would be able to use the existing command center until then.

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