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Pittsfield Police Advisory And Review Board Holds Monthly Meeting

An SUV is parked on the street in front of a brick building with "Pittsfield Police" on its doors
Josh Landes
A Pittsfield Police vehicle parked outside of the station at 39 Allen Street.

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts Police Advisory and Review Board held its monthly meeting virtually on Tuesday.

The board is Pittsfield’s third pass at an external review entity for its police department in the last six years, with its current membership appointed back in early 2019.

Some criticized the group for lacking power as it was being formed, which its chair acknowledged in its first annual report delivered in summer 2020.

Member Drew Herzig brought up concerns about the citizens complaint form.

“It's still as far as I can tell, not available in Spanish," he said. "And then on the complaint form itself, it does not say that you can return this through the PARB. And that was part of our kind of founding principle is that people who are not comfortable returning it directly to the police department could return it when we were meeting in person or that sort of thing. So I don't know if the complaint from now needs to be revised again to include that information, or if it's non-essential, so.”

Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn responded.

“The only formative changes in the form between the current version and the previous version, we added email for the complainant, because we're finding that we're doing a lot more follow-ups digitally than we are in person," he said. "We changed the title of it from citizen complaint form to external complaint form, and just kind of started referring to it as a complaint form, so that we got away from that language. And as far as any of the forms being available in Spanish, that project’s being spearheaded by city hall. So we're in line behind every other outward facing agency to have our translations done.”

Pittsfield, which census data says is home to a Hispanic or Latino-identifying population of around 2,700, has been working on expanding its Spanish-language communications.

When pushed by Herzig about adding information about returning complaints to the board as opposed to police, Wynn offered an explanation.

“I can easily modify the form, but I think that that modification is also going to require an amendment to the internal affairs policy, which hasn't come up in the queue yet," said the chief. "So I can do the form independently, but I'd kind of like to tackle those in close proximity to one another.”

He went on to say that his department’s internal affairs policy has not been amended in years.

Wynn, who has bemoaned low staffing levels for years, gave an update on the ranks.

“Today, we have 94 sworn police officers in the city of Pittsfield 92 of whom are effective and ready for duty, out of our authorized strength of 95," he said. "That's not going to last because I have three retirements on the books and one officer who just announced his resignation. So we gained six and we lose four and the struggle continues after our magical staffing numbers.”

Wynn – who has in the past struggled to account for his department’s spending – said he was working to provide the citizens’ group Invest In Pittsfield with information on what kinds of equipment his department spends public money on.

“My mission, when we left that meeting was to provide at least a list of the equipment that's in our frontline cars," said the chief. "I did that with the assistance of my staff fairly quickly. The other question that they had was grants, um, that that didn't get done quite as quickly. The mayor's office agreed to provide it but didn't understand how much work that was going to Intel from my staff. So we've been plugging away and that we have three years’ worth of grant budgets and backup documents separated from the reporting documents and digitized now. And so we're making them available slowly.”

The meeting also explored how Wynn and the Pittsfield Police define their use of force policies and how the department interacts with transgender people in the community.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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