New Great Barrington Police Chief Outlines Initiatives
At a virtual coffee hour today, the new Great Barrington, Massachusetts police chief introduced himself to the community.
53-year-old Paul Storti is replacing William Walsh, who retired last year after over four decades serving the Southern Berkshire community of around 7,000.
“I live locally, very close to town, and I have four children who have all attended local schools," he said. "And I’ve been a police officer now since 1989, so do the math on that, for a long period of time. I started my career as a part-time officer in the town of Egremont and shortly after that I joined the town of Sheffield as a part-time officer. And worked pretty much full-time on a part-time basis between both communities, and then mid-90s, I was hired full-time for the town of Great Barrington and I’ve worked here ever since.”
Storti did community policing in the city’s downtown corridor.
“In 2010, I was promoted to sergeant when we created the sergeant’s position," said the chief. "I maintained that position for 10 years when I was promoted to Chief of Police.”
He began as interim chief in December, and says his command staff has worked with him to implement community-oriented changes.
“One of the first things we did was address some of the traffic issues – we’re all constantly receiving traffic complaints so I created a traffic enforcement unit along with the new speed trailer we received, and we put that program out and I received a lot of information and requests from the community," he said. "We’re addressing that, and we also added it to our website, to our open data portal, so people can actually log onto our website and view the data that the speed trailer creates.”
Storti says he plans on addressing downtown crosswalk safety this weekend by increasing patrols in the area in the morning and evening around traffic generated by the Butternut ski resort.
He also says he’s expanded his new community outreach education officer program from a single assignment to a full team.
“Some of the people that expressed interest already have relationships built with certain groups within our community, so I thought it would be better to look at it that way so we can just continue to build off of those relationships that are already established," said Storti. "We had our first meeting yesterday and kind of laid it out how we want to approach this program.”
June’s Black Lives Matter protest in Great Barrington included an hours-long, tense standoff between community members – including many young people of color – and police on the steps of the station.
“Bryan House from the Berkshire District Attorney’s office, he is their community outreach program, and I had a good conversation with him, and he’s provided a lot of information," said Storti. "He’s offered his assistance to help us navigate the kick-off of this program”
The new chief says he’s also expanding the department’s co-responder program, which puts a clinician in the field with officers to help with calls related to mental health issues. Now, substance misuse related resources will be offered as well in a partnership with Rural Recovery Resources.
“So if we come across somebody who may be suffering some type of substance abuse issue and they’re looking for help, we are developing this partnership so the officers will be able to point them in the direction, and/or we can have that person respond directly and get them assistance either at the station or at the scene depending on what the situation is,” he said.
Storti says he wants to continue expanding the department’s transparency by making its data available online, and that after last year’s nationwide discussion of the role of policing, he is intent on improving communications to and from the broader community. He says he intends to train the entire department in crisis intervention techniques.
WAMC News intern Jeongyoon Han contributed to this story.