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Pittsfield City Council Hears Gun Violence, COVID Updates At First In-Person Meeting Since 2020

A group of politicians sit at a rostrum on a stage in a room with wooden walls and flags

At its first in-person meeting since March 2020, the Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council accepted $32 million in federal relief funds, received a COVID-19 update and more.

The proceedings in council chambers Tuesday evening began with a mention from council President Peter Marchetti of the recently deceased publisher of the Pittsfield Gazette – a fixture of the meetings before the pandemic made them remote.

“All rise for a moment of silent prayer," said Marchetti. "And as we do, can we just keep in mind Jonathan Levine and his family.”

Director of Public Health Gina Armstrong gave an update on the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that the city had two active cases.

“Late June or early July, our highest daily case rate average was .98," said Armstrong. "And then in this, the second week, we were kind of holding steady at .65, so we usually have zero to one case per day. Our positivity rate is point .15%.”

According to the city, 59% of its residents are fully vaccinated and 68% have received at least one dose.

“Berkshire County public health officials continue to monitor that, because we think that's too high of a percentage of people not going back for their second dose," said Armstrong. "And we're not sure why that is. But we do think that a portion of it could be they're going out of state for that second dose, and so it's not showing up in our surveillance data system. But that was probably only a small percentage. We have to continue to evaluate and try to do some follow up with those that have not followed through to get their second dose.”

Pittsfield’s vaccination efforts have slowed dramatically since they began late last year.

“When we started months ago, you know, we were accelerating that vaccination rate 3% to 4% each week," said Armstrong. "Now it's really slowed down, it's maybe 1% per week. So it's a much smaller step forward with the vaccination in recent weeks.”

The council officially accepted $32 million apportioned to the city from the federal American Rescue Plan Act at the meeting. Mayor Linda Tyer says she will survey the community on how to best use the money, as well as convene an advisory committee of seven to nine on its use.

“We are planning to release the survey at the end of July or early August," said Tyer. "In addition to that, we want to continue to have some stakeholders meetings with community leaders, especially those that are eligible for this fund. So we expect that work to be taking place during the month of August.”

Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey volunteered to be the council’s representative on the committee.

Police Chief Michael Wynn gave an update on his department’s response to a rash of gun violence this spring.

“In a period of time that we examined this spring, we had 18 confirmed shooting incidents between May 9th and June 30th," said Wynn. "Among those 18 confirmed shooting incidents, those included one fatal shooting, charged as a homicide, and three additional incidents reporting gunfire or injuries. Of those additional three, one of those was determined to be self-inflicted. Based on these 18 cases, six arrests have been made in connection with those confirmed incidents, including one homicide arrest immediately following a brief search for that suspect. And three additional complaints have been filed for prosecution in the district court and hopefully at some point will be elevated to the grand jury.”

Wynn said there was “no apparent consistency from the reporting parties” in the 18 incidents. He said after a shooting on May 23rd, the department altered its approach to deployments – specifically in the neighborhoods where much of the violence has been focused.

“Generally these modifications including authorizing each of our shift commanders to increase their staffing as needed, and place the additional units in the West Side and Morningside as they saw fit," said Wynn. "We also directed all patrol units on all shifts to spend any non-committed time that they weren't actively on a call in their patrol sector to rededicate that time into our impacted neighborhoods. We doubled the authorized number of details by the Anti-Street Crimes Unit and directed them to focus their attention in those geographic areas as well. We also directed all of our investigative personnel to take any time that they weren't on a follow up investigation or interview and to spend time patrolling in those impacted areas.”

The PPD also increased patrols from canine units and brought the Massachusetts State Police Community Action Team back to Pittsfield from Springfield, where Wynn said they had been relocated without him being told. The chief said he’d also reestablished contact with community groups the department works with, and noted that a long term drug investigation resulted in nine arrests and the seizure of 12 rifles as well as narcotics.

“Since the implementation of these efforts in late May, and the conclusion of the long term investigation in mid-June, late June, there have been two confirmed shooting invest incidents among those 18," said Wynn. "But there have been zero confirmed shooting incidents since June 30th, including no reports and no required detective call-ins during our last two weekends, which are historically two of the busiest weekends of the year.”

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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