Police target grant for BATmobile

NAUGATUCK — The BATmobile may soon be rolling through the borough. Not the super-powered car driven by the legendary crime fighter, but rather a Breath Alcohol Testing Mobile Unit.

Deputy Police Chief Joshua Bernegger came before the Board of Mayor and Burgesses Tuesday for authorization to apply for a grant for the unit, known as the DUI/BATmobile.

“I submitted a project concept to the Department of Transportation over the wintertime to acquire a vehicle to be used by the regional accident investigation team and the regional traffic unit,” Bernegger said. “I’m very happy to announce to this board that this project concept has been approved by the Department of Transportation.”

Bernegger said police would be able to use the vehicle for DUI checkpoints, accident reconstructions, as a critical incident command center, and for civic gatherings, such as the Fourth of July celebration or Duck Day.

The vehicle would be purchased and used by the Central Naugatuck Valley Police Unit, which includes Naugatuck, Watertown, Middlebury and Wolcott.

Bernegger said the grant would reimburse 75 percent of the cost of the vehicle, up to $275,000. The remaining 25 percent would be split evenly between the four municipalities. That total cost for each town would be between $17,000 and $22,000, he said.

Bernegger said the maintenance cost of the vehicle would also be split between all four municipalities.

Burgess Robert Neth questioned where the borough would come up with the funds for the vehicle.

“The grants are great. They’re great in the beginning, but we never anticipate what the future is with it, meaning maintenance,” Neth said.

Burgess Rocky Vitale echoed Neth’s concerns about money.

“We know we are going to be tight on the budget. We were looking to $500 here and there. Where are we going to come up with $17,000 to $22,000? I just don’t know where that’s going to come from,” Vitale said.

Bernegger said all of the details for the purchase had not been worked out, but the department was only seeking the board’s approval to move forward with applying for the grant.

The board voted in favor of allowing the department to seek the grant with only Burgess Alex Olbrys voting against it.

Bernegger assured the board that if the borough ultimately moves forward with the purchase of the vehicle it would get many years of use out of it.

“This is a long-term investment, similar to the purchase of a fire apparatus. We’d be looking at 20 years of use with a Freightliner heavy-duty diesel frame,” Bernegger said.

Bernegger said Watertown and Middlebury have already approved pursuing the grant. Bernegger plans to meet with Wolcott’s police chief in the coming weeks to discuss the project.

While the borough has never owned a vehicle like this, it has used one on a few occasions, Bernegger said.

“We have, in the past, borrowed a similar vehicle from the Waterbury Police Department or the Southington Police Department at either expense to us or their department to provide both the vehicle and a driver. You can only ask to borrow your neighbor’s lawn mower so many times,” Bernegger said.

Bernegger said if all four municipalities moved forward with the purchase of the vehicle, it can be in place by the end of the year.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said pursuing the grant represents a step in the right direction towards working together as a region.

“I think we have been asking our public safety organizations to work regionally for years. It’s probably going to be years before we get there in terms of staffing models, but this is a start,” Mezzo said.