The two candidates in the Pittsfield, Massachusetts mayoral race met for one final debate Monday night.
Right out of the gate, first-term Mayor Linda Tyer and her challenger, At-Large City Councilor Melissa Mazzeo, dove into one of the top issues in the election – crime. Tyer ran through a now familiar list of her administration’s efforts to counter rising crime rates, specifically noting its focus on the city’s struggling West Side community.
“We’ve hired more police officers, we brought ShotSpotter technology to our city," said the mayor. "With ShotSpotter, we’ve been able to make arrests, seize guns, and collect over 300 pieces of evidence for prosecution. We’ve also worked with a neighborhood community activist group to bring a community outreach post right into the neighborhood.”
She alluded to a September press release from Mazzeo that called on the city to use patrol allocation plans similar to that of the New York City Police Department. Police Chief Michael Wynn told WAMC Pittsfield already employs it, and that Mazzeo misrepresented the situation.
“We do hot spot policing now," said Tyer. "We look at our data analysis daily, and our chief and the command staff make decisions about how to deploy resources and personal based on that data.”
Tyer also claimed that the city has “taken the lead” on a countywide law enforcement effort to apply for a federal designation to get access to federal personnel and resources to address its issues.
Mazzeo in turn brought up FBI reporting on Pittsfield’s violent crime rate, which has risen since Tyer took office.
“As a mayor, I would be immediately looking at where we are in the crime – which we know right now, we’re fifth – and I would be working every day to make sure that we continue to go in the opposite direction,” said the city councilor.
The FBI data shows Pittsfield, with nearly 44,000 residents, registering 194 violent crimes in 2014, the year before Tyer took office, while the state had 391 violent crimes on average per 100,000 inhabitants. The 2018 data shows that number rising to 356 violent crimes from a smaller population of around 42,300 residents. Statewide, the violent crime rate per 100,000 inhabitants has dropped since then to 338.1.
Mazzeo’s “too little too late” criticism of Tyer’s crime policies contained little in the way of new policy initiative specifics.
“The fact that we had four term mayor who said from the start that crime was an issue but yet we’re finding initiatives being done in this fourth year," she said. "A community outreach post was done this year. The fact that we’re talking about receiving a grant for high drug trafficking intensity areas – that’s not something to be proud of. The fact that we’ve been designated as an area, is just going back to the fact that we’ve had a crime issue for four years but yet we’ve not addressed it.”
Despite Chief Wynn’s claims about hot spot policing, Mazzeo expressed skepticism over its use.
“If we’re using hot spot policing and true allocation plans for our officers, we should see officers in these areas at all times when there’s been a crime and we’re not seeing them, and when I did talk with the chief, he said we didn’t have the available resources,” said the candidate.
Wynn told WAMC Tuesday that his conversation with Mazzeo regarding hot spot policing “didn’t specifically address resources.” He said that “those were two separate but related discussions.” The chief acknowledged that “our current personnel challenges limit how aggressively we can focus on identified hot spots,” describing the force as regularly “at minimum staffing levels.”
The discussion of police staffing concerns opened a door for Tyer to bring attention to Mazzeo’s voting record.
“The very first budget that I proposed to the Pittsfield City Council was a budget that included a significant increase in funding for the police department so that we could accomplish more, especially in particular hiring more police officers so that we could put more officers on the street," said the mayor. "That budget Councilor Mazzeo voted against.”
“The fact that you’re saying that I voted no to increase the police officer’s budget to get more police officers is actually not true,” responded the councilor.
Minutes from the June 28th, 2016 City Council meeting show that the 10-year city council veteran specifically questioned what the city would “get” from increasing the police department budget in Tyer’s 2017 fiscal year plan. She ultimately voted against it.
“I can’t say I don’t want to vote for that budget because I want to take off that line item, and we all know that," said Mazzeo. "We’re able to decrease the budget, not increase it, and if there was a discussion about it, we could have it. But to fall back on that vote, I think you need to give me a little more specifics on it. But at the same time, the fact that if we’ve known that we’ve wanted to get more police officers which you’ve said that you’ve brought on, you’ve brought on 42 but 36 have left for a net gain of six over four years, this is where the problem is. Every single day you should be working to get more police officers. And you had a city council – I’m only one person on that city council. There’s 11 people.”
You can hear the full debate here:
Election day is November 5th. Polls will be open across Pittsfield from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.