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New England News

North Adams Backs Police Director’s Call To Abandon Civil Service For Future Hires

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Leaders in North Adams, Massachusetts have voted to withdraw the city police department from the state’s Civil Service system.

North Adams has begun the process of uncoupling itself from the state’s Civil Service.

“Well, it was a recommendation of the director as well as something that was supported by the police union, and so that was the reason that I brought forward the communication and order to the North Adams city council for them to consider," said Mayor Tom Bernard. “There’s a compelling case for a hiring and promotion system that would have the same or greater level of rigor and integrity that the Civil Service system has, but would free us from some of the constraints of Civil Service.”

“Basically Civil Service is a mechanism to provide us — police and fire — a list of candidates," said Police Director Michael Cozzaglio. He’d like to replace the state’s system, which he describes as “antiquated and very cumbersome,” with a new one, which would expedite the hiring process for the city of around 13,000. It currently has 23 full-time officers with a median base pay of $44,000 a year, and Cozzaglio says he’s looking to fill two vacancies.

“Right now, I am severely restricted in the number of prospective candidates that I get," he told WAMC. "For example, resident preference is first, so if someone takes the Civil Service test for police, entry level police officer, they take that test in April. That list is certified six months later. That’s a long time to wait. Now, with the assessment center process, that list would be ready for me to be reviewed within three weeks.”

The certified assessment center Cozzaglio wants to bring in to North Adams would also allow him to home in on more specific qualities in a candidate.

“Veterans status, education status, prior police experience, any type of EMS training — are you an EMT or a paramedic — are you fluent in a second language, which is also very important,” he said.

With Tuesday night’s city council vote, the city is joining other Northern Berkshire police departments in withdrawing from Civil Service. Williamstown, located just west of North Adams on Route 2, came to a similar decision earlier this year. Police Chief Kyle Johnson echoed Director Cozzaglio’s complaints of an overburdened and inefficient process, and offered a sense of what North Adams could expect next.

“We are not quite out of Civil Service yet," Johnson told WAMC. "We put it to a town meeting vote in the middle of May, it was almost unanimous to get out. The selectmen then did the process to the legislature through Senator Hinds with Representative Barrett sponsoring it. It went through the legislature to the House then back to the legislature, and just last week it went to the governor’s desk for signature.”

Johnson characterized the move as a centralizing one, noting that the police officer position in Williamstown was the only town position in the hands of an external process. The town of almost 8,000 has 11 full-time officers on staff.

Twenty miles south, the leader of the Berkshires’ largest city says it’s found a way to make Civil Service work.

“What we’ve been able to do in Pittsfield is remain in the Civil Service system, acknowledge that it has weaknesses that don’t always service us well. But we’ve been able to create a system — sort of a hybrid system," said Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer. At full strength, the department has nearly 100 officers for the city of 43,000 — though it has its own vacancies to fill. “We’re using assessment centers for the promotional exams for the higher ranks in both police and fire, and that’s worked really well in this past year. And yet we’re still using the traditional civil service exam for entry level police and firefighters.”

For now, North Adams could wait as long as six months for its decision to buck Civil Service to go into effect.

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