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Pittsfield Police Call On Public To Help In Effort To Curb Gun Violence

An SUV is parked on the street in front of a brick building with "Pittsfield Police" on its doors
Josh Landes

Police in Pittsfield, Massachusetts have called on the public to help them in curbing an uptick in gun violence in the city this spring.

The Pittsfield Police Department released a statement last week calling on city residents to speak up after gunfire on Francis Avenue Thursday night struck a vehicle whose passengers included two children – an incident quickly followed by another shooting that sent a Pittsfielder to the hospital Friday night.

“To be honest, to be witnesses, and to, you know, let us know even if you're not going to be a, you know, quote unquote, testifying witness some point in the future, if you at least call and give us information and remain anonymous, that has value," said Captain Mark Trepani of the Pittsfield PD. “Obviously, not as much value as a named witness, as far as the court goes, as far as what it helps us do. That being said, we're not there most often when these things occur. So if people that witnessed the actual event call us and tell us what they saw, it helps us significantly.”

The department says the gunfire has largely been within a half-mile radius of the city’s downtown – including a shooting death in front of the Family Dollar on North Street in April.

“Since May 9th, we've had 12 shooting incidents or shots fired incidents," said Trepani. "11 out of the 12 were picked up by ShotSpotter. One was not. It was not in the coverage area. Two of the 11 then that remain, we did not get any calls from citizens. So without ShotSpotter those would have gone unknown to us.”

Trepani’s unprompted defense of ShotSpotter in an interview with WAMC comes after more public criticism of the technology and its $250,000 yearly price tag during annual budget hearings last week. A report by city councilor Nick Caccamo shows the gunfire detection technology produced an almost 70% false positive rate between 2017 and 2020.

Trepani says the PPD is adapting its methods to confront the rise in gun violence.

“We've had several meetings over I'd say, like the last couple of weeks, you know, as this trend has definitely emerged," he said. "And extra staffing in both, you know, plain clothes and uniform, particularly dedicated to not only the sites where these shootings have occurred, but if we have intelligence that particular people are involved or a particular address is involved, we're going to be a very visible deterrent. You know, we're investigating the cases to try and bring resolution to the existing cases, but we're also going to attempt to be very visible and present as a deterrent.”

“I would certainly want to reassure the community that the Pittsfield Police Department, as well as myself, are taking all of this very seriously. We have been in regular daily communications about the events that have unfolded," said Mayor Linda Tyer. “I obviously understand how upsetting and frightening this is for the people of our city. I want to reassure the community, however, that we are working hard, not only within our own department, but with our partners to investigate these this criminal activity.”

She says Pittsfield is working with state and federal entities.

“I really don't have a sense of what's triggered this recent spate," Tyer told WAMC. "I mean, it’s known to us that we are a destination city for gun trafficking. And that's why we have been working with the ATF to submit evidence of all manner of gun crime evidence so that we can try to identify in greater detail how to disrupt and interrupt this flow of guns into our city.”

Currently, the Pittsfield Police Department’s “Crime Statistics” page on its website at pittsfieldpd.org is blank, and its short-lived CityStat Report program hasn’t been updated since October 2015.

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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