Pittsfield Police say gangs likely to blame for recent violence in city
PITTSFIELD — Recent reports of gunfire in the city "appear to be gang-related," according to Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn.
Addressing a crowd of community leaders and citizens, Wynn emphasized that members of the general public don't appear to be "directly" at risk in connection with the incidents.
"Of course we're always worried about someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.
Before a group of about 60 people gathered at the Ralph J. Froio Senior Center on Thursday morning, Wynn addressed concerns regarding a recent string of violent incidents in the city, including a pair of nonfatal shootings and a near-fatal stabbing. There also were two reports of gunfire in which no one was hit, but at least one building was struck.
"We have gangs in Pittsfield," he said. "It's not something we've been keeping secret for the last eight years."
In the most recent shooting involving a victim, a 17-year-old male was found wounded on Sunday evening in the area of Pomeroy and Bartlett avenues. He was transported to Berkshire Medical Center for injuries that did not appear to be life threatening.
Two incidents were reported the previous weekend. On April 23, a 24-year-old man was shot in the abdomen near Union and Center streets. The victim checked himself out of BMC later that day.
And early on April 24, a 29-year-old man suffered serious injuries when he was stabbed in the abdomen and arm on Linden Street. A suspect has been arrested in that case and remains in custody.
Wynn said the recent incidents don't appear to be connected, with the exception of the last two, in which only a structure was hit.
"As far as the ones that may be related, they're both pending, they're both actively under investigation," he said. "These are targeted acts of violence by members of one organization against members of another organization, or in some cases against members of their own organization, for reasons that I can't begin to guess about."
Police are familiar with most of the people who have been involved in some way with the recent incidents, Wynn said.
"With I think one exception, everybody that we're looking at in relation to these most recent incidents has been in our custody either under arrest or for some other reason in the last six months," he said.
Pittsfield Police Capt. Mark Trapani addressed a concern about a lack of information from the department about violent or criminal activity in the city.
"You want to know, you're curious, you're invested in your community and I applaud that. That desire for knowledge, unfortunately, doesn't outweigh the necessity of being able to successfully prosecute cases in court sometimes years down the road," Trapani said. "Or, the need for information doesn't outweigh our necessity of keeping what we do somewhat secret. Because, if I tell you what we're doing, then everybody knows what we're doing.
"We don't advertise," Trapani said. "We give press releases when we feel there's a need for the community to know something or when the media asks us."
Wynn said responding officers are primarily concerned with addressing the situation to which they're responding.
"The last thing that's going through the mind of those responding police officers is 'Oh yeah, let me hammer out a press release.' "
"Somewhere down the line, sometimes shortly thereafter, but many times hours thereafter, somebody else, a sergeant, a lieutenant, a captain, or in some cases me, is going to say, 'Oh, this one is significant, maybe we should get this out,' " Wynn said.
"We don't have a public relations staff," he said. "Our PR people are operational cops who do this on top of what else they do. So, it's always going to be a little bit after the fact."
"Can I take some steps and do some adjusting?" Wynn said. "Yeah, we can do that and we'll take that under advisement."
Wynn also addressed the current staffing levels of the department, which is about 91 officers, including himself. But he said that number hovers closer to 82 on a day-to-day basis, he said, and it could dip down into the 70s by this summer.
He said a city with the size and population of Pittsfield's should have between 110 and 120 officers and that the department has been advocating for that level of staffing for "over a decade."
Ward 5 City Councilor Donna Todd Rivers, who helped organize Thursday's meeting, said she would be supporting more funds for the department in upcoming budget talks.
"I will not waver on that commitment," she said.
Wynn and other representatives from the department urged residents to contact them by any means available to report suspicious activity or information about crimes — even if they think it's minor.
Wynn said people can call the department directly at 413-448-9700, or send a tip via cellphone to 847411 with a text beginning with PITTIP, followed by their information, or submit information to police via the department's Facebook page.
"You don't have to leave a name," Trapani said. "The time to really get involved in an incident is when it occurs, not hours or days later."
In an emergency, people should call 911, Wynn said.
Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.