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Pittsfield Approves Police Department Grants Administrator Position After Debate

A stone building with a colonnade sits below a grey sky amid snowdrifts.
Josh Landes
Pittsfield, Massachusetts City Hall.

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council is creating a new grants administrator role for the city’s police department.

During the public portion of Tuesday’s meeting, the only four speakers were uniformly in opposition to any expansion of the police department budget, which came in around $11.5 million for fiscal year 2021.

“It was just nine months ago back in June that Pittsfield was urging city council to reduce the Pittsfield police budget and to reduce spending on policing its residents," said resident Kelan O’Brien. “While I and many others are grateful that the council did cut and reallocate some funds, the police department has already increased their budget by about 10% this year through state and federal grants. I actually think it's over 10% as well. If there's to be a discussion about a grant administrator position being housed within the police department, I hope that it would happen in tandem with the budget hearing in June and in line with the amount of resources and funding that residents of Pittsfield want their police department to have access to.”

Resident Meg Bossong noted that while the grants administrator position was framed as cost neutral by the city and would be paid for with administrative fees, other expenditures pitched in a similar manner had changed over time.

“ShotSpotter was initially a fully grant and corporate donation funded program for which the city is now on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in software licenses and new hardware for results that are frankly questionable and many cities are questioning its value,” she said.

“I'm wondering what the thought process was in terms of putting this position into the Pittsfield Police Department versus a citywide position, as I mean, I can only imagine that, like, all of our departments really could use a grants boost versus just the police department, you know, and it seems like a position that could benefit the entire city," said Ward 1 city councilor Helen Moon. “I don't think I've been very shy about the fact that I'm concerned about the increases in our police budget via grants, because those funds don't offset our general budget, it just adds more dollars to the police department. And those dollars are – I see you’re shaking your head, Madam Mayor, but it's $1.25 million this year alone that has been added to the City Police Department budget, and the city doesn't get that money back. It stays within the department. And I'm sure you know, Chief Wynn can, and the city, can justify a few. But it's a lot of money.”

“The largest majority of those grants are pass through grants that fund programs and services that are run by 18 Degrees and by the Elizabeth Freeman Center. So it isn't that these grants are adding money to the police department's operating budget. It says the grants are required to come through the Pittsfield Police Department. They're managed by the grants administrator position that we want to create and pay for with the admin fees associated with those grants," responded Mayor Linda Tyer. “It would be impossible for a single person to manage the magnitude of the grants that the city of Pittsfield applies for and manages on an annual basis. And the other point that I would say about that is each department has very specific unique, very specific programs that they want to fund, very specific reporting requirements. And I think it makes sense, quite frankly, for there to be staff associated with each department, who is, has expertise in applying for and managing the grants.”

Despite those explanations, Moon said she still harbors concerns about the city’s police department spending, especially with unresolved questions about last year’s budget going into a new financial planning season.

“I am unsure of the mental health position that was something that we had asked form, and have that position that film hasn't been you know, there's so many questions about the police department budget that I still have,” said the councilor.

The position was approved as part of a larger item in a 7-4 council vote, with Councilors Christopher Connell, Kevin Morandi and Anthony Maffuccio joining Moon in opposition.

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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