Lieutenant Jason Wood of the North Adams Police Department has been appointed the city’s new police chief.
Mayor Tom Bernard has repeatedly emphasized the importance of this appointment in the months since former chief Michael Cozzaglio announced his retirement in late 2018. Bernard says Lieutenant Wood beat out two other finalists because of his longstanding ties to North Adams. Wood, 42, is a city native and a graduate of Drury High School, with an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Berkshire Community College.
“The median income and median home price of North Adams versus the communities that other candidates were coming from – level of education, poverty rate, disability rate – just the things that are foundational to policing in North Adams that Lieutenant Wood understands because he and the officers that he works with and the community contend with those every day,” said the mayor.
Wood says the police department – which currently employs 23 full-time officers, with four new ones in training – is enthusiastic about his appointment. He laid out the vision he’d like to implement after he’s officially sworn in on May 1st.
“Well, I want to engage the community more as far as getting the guys out there, interacting with the youth more, maybe impromptu events we might set up just to draw a little bit of a crowd," said Wood. "I want to bring back Coffee With A Cop, I see good things happen in Pittsfield with Chief Wynn. I would like to do community meetings maybe once a month at night somewhere for a couple hours so we can see what their concerns are, see if we’re missing anything, maybe we can educate them – the give and take, to see where we’re going to go.”
Wood wants to overhaul the department’s policies and procedures by updating and expanding them, as well as see it become more self-sufficient.
“I’d like to see us open up, as far as specialized divisions," said Wood. "For instance, an accident reconstruction group, maybe a use of force investigator. I’d like to become more inclusive, and not have to rely so heavily on state police.”
Wood says he’s seen policing change from the “rough around the edges,” “harder approach” he encountered when he joined the force in 2003. He credits the transformation to growing public outrage nationally over incidents of police violence – an attitude he accepts as the new reality for police today.
“Overall, as these emerging societal issues continue to grow, the police department has to become more understanding," he told reporters. "We’ve got the law enforcement side of it, but we have to be more compassionate and thing about things in a more realistic approach where we need to help people. We used to help people by arresting the bad guy and then the victim would fend for themselves. Well, now we need to pay attention to the victim as well and help them get back on their feet.”
Wood told reporters he welcomes scrutiny of his department.
“You got someone else watching you, you either sink or swim," he said. "I look at it is a challenge – adapt and overcome, and set the example, a good example.”
While North Adams has no external police oversight, Bernard said Pittsfield’s new Police Review and Advisory Board – which had its first meeting this week – could be instructive.
“I’d like to watch them for six months or so, which also gives the chief the opportunity to get in, get his feet under him, but then certainly, I think again, when we’re talking about community relationships, when we’re talking about transparency, it’s worth exploring," said the mayor.
While the city still must negotiate a salary with Wood for his new position, the chief’s starting compensation last stood at around $77,000 a year. Cozzaglio left making around $81,000. Bernard unsuccessfully sought to raise the beginning pay to more than $85,000 in December. Wood will face some challenges in North Adams, including a high rate violent crime, and persistent threats of the opioid epidemic, domestic assault, and sexual violence.
“The reality of it is, North Adams is a busy city and we’re faced with our fair share of problems," he said. "You see what happens. But the best we can do is stay vigilant, be aggressive with our drug enforcement. I think by strengthening our community bonds and connections, reaching out with the other agencies – like the mayor said, reaching out to the Elizabeth Freeman Center, bringing them more in to the picture with us – hopefully we can start making some headway to ultimately lower those numbers.”