Pittsfield To Discuss Sanctuary Policies

May 8, 2017

The Pittsfield City Council is scheduled to discuss sanctuary policies adopted by the city’s police department. It’s the result of a citizens’ petition amid fears of increased federal immigration enforcement activity. 

The City Council received a petition requesting an ordinance to establish a Pittsfield Trust Act to accept the city’s police department’s new policy on immigration.

It was referred to the city’s Ordinance and Rules Committee. Councilor Nick Caccamo is on the committee.

“Just to be clear: I mean, we’re, this is not creating a sanctuary city. I mean, that has its own definitions, and there are cities that have adopted that designation; and albeit that is, that is their operation,” Caccamo says. “Merely the most of what this does. It just says if you go to the police department, you won’t be asked any questions about your immigration status, and that’s it.”  

Supporters say the trust act would make undocumented immigrants feel more comfortable reporting criminal activity because they could do so without fear of the police asking about their status.

“It’s pretty simple, I think it’s, it’s pretty clear. I think this is perfectly fine for our city,” Caccamo says.

Resident Tora Huntington says the act is a matter of public safety.

“I think that in favor of us having, not the official terminology safe community but living in a safe place, we need to have people not being afraid to report criminal activity,” Huntington says.

Councilor Pete White agrees.

“I don’t think any of us are safe when anyone is afraid to report based on what could happen to them; and I think this is an important step for our community to take,” White says. 

“All of this sanctuary city nonsense is not about helping immigrants,” resident Alex Bloomin says.

Alex Bloomin says he is a legal immigrant from the Ukraine. He believes the act violates federal law, and was not discussed properly. 

The trust act was first filed as a petition and was sent to the Human Rights Commission, where it was discussed and changed. It was then sent to the City Council two weeks ago, where it was discussed before being referred to the Ordinance Committee last week – again with changes.

“So now they change it, instead of Pittsfield Trust Act, which is basically sanctuary city,” Bloomin says.

Bloomin says it’s just a political stunt.

Councilor Melissa Mazzeo disagrees, but said there’s a problem with the petition.

“When the original petition came forward, it was looking to be put into somewhat of an ordinance, but the policy – the police department does not run off of ordinances. It runs off of their policies,” Mazzeo says.

By law, the Pittsfield Police Department is allowed to change policy at any point. The police have already made it part of their procedure not to ask residents about their legal status. But…

“What we are being asked to, though, is look at an ordinance, a very simple ordinance that was written that basically says that if there is any given time when the police department shall change their policy, which is completely within their right, that they give the city council, the mayor 30 days notice,” Mazzeo says.

Mazzeo says that should be added to the city code.

“Because we are in such volatile times, and right now everyone seems like we are on the same page. But if that was to ever change, I think that everyone would want to know about that so that we would be able to – not that we can completely say, you know, you have to change your policy – but we could really, you know, make a decision if there was going to be a change that that we didn’t like,” Mazzeo says.  

The ordinance and the new policy will go before the City Council at Tuesday’s meeting.

Last week, residents of nearby Great Barrington voted to approve a policy that makes it a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. It prevents Great Barrington Police from cooperating with federal immigration officials, except when there is a criminal warrant involved.