PITTSFIELD >> International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 447 of the Pittsfield Police Department has an entirely new executive board following a special election.
The election was held in part to replace former officer and union President Jeffrey Coco, who was fired after an internal affairs investigation produced evidence he had stolen tens of thousands of dollars from union funds while an executive board member from 2011 through earlier this year.
An investigation into possible criminal charges is continuing. Coco's attorney has said he will appeal his dismissal.
Officer Andrew Couture is the new president of Local 447, which represents about 65 officers in the PPD. During a recent interview with The Eagle, he and local Vice President Dale Eason said new procedures have been put in place to monitor union expenditures, and members want to take "a different direction going forward."
That will include a focus on community events organized by police officers that won't benefit or raise money for the union and its charity endeavors, Couture said. The first of those will provide meals for needy residents at a local church, and other suggestions include cleanup efforts at local parks.
After an initial monthly meeting of the new executive board in November, members are becoming familiar with their new roles, Eason said, and "learning as we go along."
Among early changes, he and Couture said, are requirements that two people must sign for any withdrawal of union funds and that union deductions from officer paychecks have to be sent by the city directly to the national union without local members handling those funds.
A $3 per person withholding from union dues that stayed with the local union will no longer be collected. The local is considering methods of setting a dollar limit on how much can go for a single charitable cause without approval by the membership.
A savings account also was established for the union local funds, replacing the checking account previously utilized.
"We are doing these things so that one person doesn't have the keys to the kingdom, so to speak," Couture said.
He added that the new executive board members have not served on it in the past and are not aware of every past practice. "We started from Day One as a new union with everything going forward," he said.
In the Oct. 21 special union election, other officers selected were John Mazzeo as treasurer and John Bassi as secretary. The election was open to any officer, regardless of whether they had served in the past.
Local 447 is also associated with Local 447S, which represents about 20 supervisory officers, including sergeants, lieutenants and captains.
Couture said he believes fundraising drives will continue to support the union's charity giving to student scholarships, Scouts programs, the Boys & Girls Club and youth sports teams, although there may be some changes in the format.
Most likely, those efforts will continue to involve TCI or another charity collection company to handle the telephone calls and help oversee the fund drive process, Couture said, because those drive provide the majority of funding for annual union donations, which in turn help increase department morale.
"I think it's a tough time," Couture said, referring to negative news involving police officers nationally and at times in the Berkshires. The hope, he said, is that planning more events like park cleanup parties that put officers in contact with the public outside work hours could help change any negative perceptions.
"We are looking to change perceptions. We're looking to do more community-based activities," Couture said. "Basically, we are going to be giving back to the community."