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Pittsfield city council approves full police body camera program, $250,000 to assist Electro Magnetic Applications

A stone building with a colonnade.
Josh Landes

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council approved a contract that will mean full implementation of body cameras for the police department and an investment in a tech business at its meeting Tuesday night.

City clerk Michele Benjamin read the two orders pertaining to the Pittsfield Police Department’s body camera program to the council.

“The first order, to enter into a five-year contract with Axon Enterprises Incorporated for body worn cameras, and the second order to accept a grant of funds in the amount of $166,586.73 from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security,” read Benjamin.

The contract includes two separate arrangements with Axon.

The first establishes a 60-month, $1.2 million deal to supply the Pittsfield PD with 90 body cameras. The second sets up a 60-month, $281,000 arrangement that will equip 20 police cruisers with cameras with automated license plate reading capability.

“The body cameras will come online first," said Police Chief Michael Wynn. "The cruiser cameras are going to take some time. We're in the middle of taking delivery of cars. So, we wouldn't want to outfit cars that are going to be redlined during this, that end of season. We don't have a firm delivery date for body cameras. We're really dependent on Axon for that. They got us the cameras for the pilot very quickly. But they've given us indication that they're still dealing with supply chain issues. I don't expect it to be months, but I can tell you it's going to be weeks.”

The grant from the commonwealth will support installation and training that will accompany the Pittsfield PD fully adopting a department-wide program for body and cruiser cameras. The city’s pilot program for body cameras began in earnest following a series of starts and stops in November after police unions initially blocked its implementation.

The city council also approved giving $250,000 from the city’s economic development fund – established in a settlement with General Electric in response to years of pollution by the corporate giant – to Electro Magnetic Applications, Inc. The Colorado-based electromagnetic research company’s Pittsfield presence is based in the Berkshire Innovation Center on what was once the GE campus.

In 2019, we started here with just me out here. We've grown very happily to eight employees. We are very much a small business. We do not have $250,000 to fund this significant expansion out here into this under our couches. And so, for us to be able to participate in this burgeoning optics industry here, it requires us to grow and grow significantly," said Justin McKennon, a scientist with EMA. “This optics regime is very unique, and it is the absolute cutting edge of technology in that sector. The state is a stronghold of optics technology, and this area is about as cutting edge as you will find with it there. And what we want to do is kind of replicate the success that we've had with our commercial space line of business and do that here in Pittsfield. And in doing that, we're going to bolster all of the capabilities that we have at the Innovation Center.”

Ward 2 city councilor Charles Kronick was not convinced.

“They should be funding this purchase themselves, because it's not a huge, it's not huge in scale," he said. "And by my understanding, they have either the cash or the ability to acquire a bank loan for this, or go through our city's funding options, through the [Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corporation] or other in through [Pittsfield Economic Development Authority] itself, though we do have the ability to make loans. Second, EMA is currently enjoying a large cash subsidy for the city in the form of [tax increment financing]. And the last thing, lastly, the city- The company remains tied to the grounds at BIC is therefore not largely contributing to the commercial tax base.”

Ward 5’s Patrick Kavey is an enthusiastic supporter of the plan.

“When we're talking about economic development, one thing that they had mentioned was how they're going to be hiring eight people," he said. "And at the salaries for those eight people, the return on investment that we're getting is double what we'd be giving them. And then they were also talking about, one thing that stood out to me, working with Taconic High School, Berkshire Community College, [Springfield Technical Community College] out of Springfield, UMass, and – was it Northeastern? – all these different universities to help train their students so that they could go directly into jobs with this organization. So, when we're talking about youth staying here, and the bike lanes, or we're talking about jobs, all of it's interconnected and what they're doing is helping to make our regional economy stronger.”

The council ultimately approved the plan in an 8-2 vote with only Kronick and At-Large councilor Karen Kalinowksy in opposition. Ward 7’s Anthony Maffuccio, who has missed a number of meetings in recent months, was absent.

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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