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Pittsfield Shooting Turns Into Political Fight

Jim Levulis

A deadly July 4th shooting in Pittsfield and the events surrounding it are becoming a political football as the city finds itself in the midst of a heated mayoral race.Saturday’s shooting on the city’s West Side killed 25-year-old Ronald Pinel. Pittsfield Police say multiple guns and shooters injured several others. A 20-year-old man and a 20-year-old woman are in stable condition, according to The Berkshire Eagle.  remains in critical condition. Similar to a gang-related shooting involving two teenagers last summer, the Pittsfield community has responded, planning a Stop The Violence vigil near the shooting scene Friday afternoon. Responses have also come by way of political opponents. In her bid against Mayor Dan Bianchi’s race for a third term, City Clerk Linda Tyer on Tuesday criticized the mayor’s call for residents to be the “eyes and ears” for the police department through neighborhood watch programs.

“I am critical of his response because I felt that it was insensitive and somewhat dismissive to the serious nature of this incident,” said Tyer.

Saying crime watches have a role, Tyer says it’s unfair to put crime-fighting responsibility on residents. In response to the shooting, Bianchi said Monday at no time should residents act as police.

“Things like this from time to time will happen, but as a community the way you attempt to prevent or minimize these things from happening are by changing your community,” Bianchi said. “When I first got elected, I started an expansion of the neighborhood watch programs because while we have tremendous professionals, men and women in the Pittsfield Police Department, they can’t do everything. The community has to take ownership of certain things.”

On Wednesday Bianchi called Tyer’s comments misleading.

“I think that she’s being blatantly political,” Bianchi said. “I think it’s unfortunate that somebody would use an incident like this for politics and that’s exactly what she’s doing.”

If elected mayor, Tyer is pledging to increase the number of police officers on the streets, saying she will work with law enforcement professionals to develop new crime-fighting strategies.

“If I were mayor during the past two terms I would’ve done more to bolster the law enforcement community,” Tyer said. “I would have built up our patrol officers. So for example in FY15 and FY16 we still only 65 patrol officers despite the recommendations of his own police advisory committee and his chief of police.”

On Monday, Bianchi defended his record on public safety, citing the hiring of a crime analyst, forming a public safety task force, adding police officer positions to the city’s budget and the city’s receiving of a gang and youth violence prevention grant for consecutive years. Waiting for law enforcement to release more details of the July 4th shooting, Bianchi says the city’s response to the violence is to increase police patrols near the shooting scene and to pursue mentoring and similar programs currently in place.

“We’re going to continue the public discussion and take proactive steps as we have over last three years to make sure that young people have better options than to have violent confrontations such as this.”

Asked whether her criticism of Mayor Bianchi is turning a deadly shooting into a political situation, Tyer says crime and safety are deeply upsetting issues for city residents.

“This is an issue that matters deeply to Pittsfielders,” Tyer said. “They have a right to know, in fact they are demanding to know, where all of the candidates for all of the offices stand on this issue.”

Three other individuals, Craig Gaetani, Eric Bassett and Donna Walto have taken out mayoral nominating papers. Gaetani says Bianchi’s handling of the situation has been bad. He criticizes Bianchi for not bringing Police Chief Michael Wynn, who according to The Berkshire Eagle is on vacation, back to Pittsfield. Gaetani says more police officers should be walking West Side streets.

“By doing this day in and day out the people will realize that the police are their friend and they will give them information about things that are about to occur before they occur,” said Gaetani.

Bassett had no comment on the shooting. Walto did not return a call in time for broadcast.

Update: Reached after the story’s original publication, Walto says its unfortunate the shooting has become a political talking point.

Donna Walto explains what she would have done in response to the deadly July 4th shooting if she was mayor.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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