Late last year, Pittsfield began a review process of its city charter. This process is ongoing and being conducted by a committee consisting of 12 members who were appointed by Mayor Bianchi. In recent weeks, this committee has decided to reopen an examination into removing both the positions of police chief and fire chief from the Civil Service appointment process. Currently, the Pittsfield Fire and Police Departments have been operating without a permanent chief since 2003 and 2007 respectively. This time period spans three different mayoral administrations, each refusing to name a permanent chief from the civil service process, choosing instead to continue the long-running limbo of the acting chief
In 1981, the city removed the police chief’s position from Civil Service after 70 years. The subsequent decade without a Civil Service police chief was definitely not without its controversies. The city’s police department went through three different politically appointed chiefs, one temporary chief, and ended with a two-year period where there was no chief at all. It should come as no surprise that in 1991, the citizens of Pittsfield voted to return the chief’s position back to Civil Service.
There has been some misinformation about the Civil Service chief selection process started by misinformed city officials and spread further by the media. First, the top candidates on a Civil Service exam are not simply "good test takers." The exam, which tests a candidate’s knowledge of the law, police investigations and administrative management, is only part of a multi-pronged process, one that is supported by the members of this police department. The other parts of this process consist of an assessment center, an oral interview, and the weight of the candidates’ education, training and experience. The option exists to open the process to state-wide candidates and the mayor is not limited to selecting the candidate with the top score, but has the authority to choose among the top three candidates.
The purpose of Civil Service is not to tie a mayor’s hands in his decision making but instead to prevent the abuse of position and influence, long documented, during periods without it. The department needs the stability of a permanent chief, free from political interference, to focus on the business of public safety and to develop long-term goals for the agency. A politically-appointed chief, subject to the whims of a mayor, is both disruptive and damaging to the morale of the many fine officers who serve the people of this city.
The men and women of the Pittsfield Police Department strongly support the continuation of the Civil Service police chief. We also urge forward motion by the mayor in naming a permanent chief, not taking backward steps toward eliminating Civil Service and an unwelcome return to the politicizing of a public safety position. This in turn, not only benefits the police department but the city and its citizens as well.
Matthew Hill is president, Pittsfield Police Superior Officers Union #447S. Jeffrey Coco is president, Pittsfield Police Officers Union #447.