Mazzeo Crime Claims Spark Debate In Pittsfield

Sep 6, 2019

A blistering press release from a mayoral candidate in Pittsfield, Massachusetts has ignited a conversation about the city’s crime rate.

The week in Pittsfield politics kicked off with a Labor Day missive from At-Large City Councilor Melissa Mazzeo. It knocked city leaders for a “significant lack of response to recent violence.” WAMC spoke with the candidate at a campaign standout on West Street on Tuesday.

“Well, because going door to door, and that’s what’s everybody’s been talking about as you read the paper and listen to everything," said Mazzeo. "I mean, we’ve had a number of shootings just in the last couple days. In the last few weeks, we’ve probably had more than we’ve had in a year, and people are really, really concerned.”

The 10-year city council veteran has based her campaign on frustration with what she describes as the inaction and unfulfilled promises of Linda Tyer’s administration. Tyer is the first mayor in city history to serve a four-year term rather than a two-year term. Mazzeo has also criticized Police Chief Michael Wynn.

“For my campaign, we wanted to be really proactive and not reactive to things, and so that means I’ve been researching what other communities are doing in order to try to reduce their crime, and one of the things that I followed up on was this report that came out of New York City about how they’ve reduced their number of police officers, they’ve reduced their crime because they followed a patrol allocation plan," said the councilor. "Now, I’m not saying it’s going to work for Pittsfield, but we’re not even attempting to do anything like that. We seem like we’re just doing, year after year after year, we’ve done the same thing. We’re trying to add new officers, we’re trying to add more money, and yet our crime is going up, so it’s not working. And I just don’t think we’re addressing it.”

Wednesday, Tyer defended her efforts to invest in public safety.

“We’ve hired more police officers and we’ve brought state of the art technology to the city in the form of ShotSpotter, we’ve expanded community policing, we created the Citizens Review And Advisory Board,” said the incumbent.

She touted the creation of the Pittsfield Police Department’s West Side outpost, which emerged from a community meeting in late 2018 that the mayor noted she, and not Mazzeo, attended. Tyer dug into Mazzeo’s press release, specifically its mention of a patrol allocation plan.

“Unfortunately, she’s misinformed, because we do use that strategy," the mayor told WAMC. "We receive daily crime statistics from our intelligence analyst and the department deploys officers and resources based on those daily crime reports. So we are addressing hot spot neighborhoods in ways that we can’t always discuss because we want to make sure that we’re not revealing too much of our strategy.”

Tyer took issue with Mazzeo’s criticism of city leadership, underscoring that the councilor has been a city official for the past decade and questioning why she hasn’t produced “meaningful contributions to solving this problem.”

“Where has she been, and why hasn’t she locked arms with those of us who are working hard and solving problems?" asked Tyer. "I feel like this ‘I can’t do it from this seat’ is an excuse for her lack of accomplishments.”

Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn, speaking with WAMC Thursday, also pushed back. He said he hadn’t met with the candidate during the election cycle about the topic of crime prior to the press release.

“The patrol allotment plan that she references, it’s not actually related to what she claims," the chief told WAMC. "That’s NYPD’s CompStat program, which given – comparative, our one person intelligence section, we actually do that. We do deploy based on trends, not on geographic locations anymore, we’ve been doing that for years. And the surge strategy which she describes, with putting – I think the word was ‘massive’ – number of officers in response to particular incidents, has been shown historically to be ineffective. It actually was shown to have some negative impacts.”

Wynn said the department’s major struggle comes down to staffing.

“We’re making some progress on that," said the chief. "I just had new staffing numbers run recently. We’ve put on 42 new police officers since the beginning of 2014. Unfortunately, in the same time period, due to attrition and other reasons we’ve lost 36. So that’s a lot of effort for a comparatively small gain, but it is a gain. And we’re going to continue to struggle with that in the short term because we’re making up for 20 plus years of understaffing and underfunding.”

Mazzeo also took a shot at District Attorney Andrea Harrington, describing her office as “so incredibly slow in providing information about the recent incidents to the public.” The DA declined to respond.

Joining Mazzeo and Tyer in the mayoral campaign are Karen Kalinowsky and Scott Graves. The preliminary election is September 17th.