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Wynn says Pittsfield police unions have dropped opposition to body camera program, ending impasse

The entrance to the Pittsfield Police Department.
Josh Landes
The entrance to the Pittsfield Police Department.

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts police department’s body camera program is moving forward after weeks of delay.

At the October 26th city council meeting, frustration reigned after the body was told concerns from the police union had put the program on an indefinite hiatus.

Tuesday night, Police Chief Michael Wynn told councilors the impasse is over.

“I can say that all of the unanticipated issues that led to the delay at the end of October had been resolved and we're back on track are still putting together the final timeline,” he said.

In an effort to clarify what had happened, Wynn broke down events between the issuance of an October 20th communication saying the pilot program would begin by the end of that month and the update six days later that it had stalled.

“The last two entries on the report I prepared for you were on October 13th when we selected the initial participants to participate in the pilot and put out the temporary policy," said the chief. "And then we scheduled the body worn camera training for the members of the pilot to begin. On the same day, I received communication from one of our unions that they had some concerns and they had some objections and they would not be participating in the body camera pilot.”

Despite that, Wynn said the department did not cancel the program.

“On October 21st, we received notice that we had received the state grant we had applied for to help fund the initial cost of the body camera pilot," he continued. "But in the communication notice notifying us of the grant, we were also directed to keep that information embargoed until the governor's office could hold a media event which they held yesterday, so we couldn't confirm the receipt of that grant. On October 24th, I received the first communication from our other union indicating that in solidarity with the first union, they also would not be participating in the pilot body camera program that derailed the program because we were scheduled to start the training that weekend and roll the cameras out the following week.”

On November 1st, Wynn says he delivered his own ultimatum back to the unions.

“I informed both unions that I intended to serve them notice to impact bargain and start the program regardless of their concerns that were not related to the technology or the policy,” he told the council.

By November 10th, the chief said, the unions had dropped their opposition to the body cameras over the unspecified issues unrelated to the program. After resolving what Wynn described as a similarly unspecified personnel issue that took precedence by November 21st, the program’s implementation was set to begin as of Wednesday.

“Assuming no technological issues arise during the training, we're prepared to initiate the program by the end of this week, possibly the end of this weekend,” said the chief.

Wynn explained how the state grant for the body cameras would address the costs associated with the program.

“There aren't really any entire costs with the body camera program," he said. "This is an ongoing recurring expense because it's the data storage, the data access, and the data retrieval. The total amount of the grant is just over $166,000 that will cover the entire first lump sum payment that's due to the anticipated vendor, should we ultimately select them, and it will offset the second lump sum payment that will be made, again, should we select this vendor, probably in February of 2023. And then there will be a recurring expense of approximately $280,000 that will be that be added to the police department's budget to maintain the access to the program.”

Wynn says the full complement of body cameras for his department – 90 – will likely come from vendor Axon by March. Until then, the pilot program will run in miniature.

“We're going to have two cameras on each shift every at any given time, and two cameras assigned to the investigative section on both shifts," said the chief. "And during the duration of the pilot program, we'll swap those cameras between participant officers every four to six weeks to get the biggest data set that we can.”

Asked if the police couldn’t find the $280,000 in recurring expenses in their $12 million budget, Wynn said he already expected to overspend in his department.

“We've been really, really aggressive in filling our staffing numbers," he told the council. "And we've got a bunch of people in the training pipeline who are drawing from the patrol officer salary line item, which when we have vacancies is where we make up some of that, and we don't have them. We're prepared, we sent out for conditional offers of employment today. And so, we're paying student officers or candidates, and we settled two union contracts since we agreed to this budget. So, my budget wasn't- I wasn't budgeted for the increases in the salary line for both unions. So, we're anticipating a shortfall.”

Pressed on the $280,000 figure, Wynn backtracked.

“I apologize, I said 280 Because I was, so- It's $106,515, $185,039, and then it's $185,000 and change for the remaining years of the contract," he said. "So, $185,000, not $285,000.”

The chief was also asked to give an update on his department’s current staffing levels.

“Our authorized strength is 97," said Wynn. "The number is 87 or 88 that are available- Well, that are sworn. And then we've got a number in the pipeline with the conditional offers of employment that went out today, and we get to 95 or 96.”

The council unanimously accepted Wynn’s communication about the body camera program.

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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