PITTSFIELD — Leaders of two Pittsfield police unions won’t comment on concerns that stopped a body camera pilot program from launching this week.
Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn wrote to the City Council last week that the department was preparing to begin an eight-officer pilot program testing Axon and BodyWorn body cameras this week.
Pittsfield Police Captain Gary Traversa told the City Council that it was “not for me to discuss” what about the technology, training or other elements surrounding the department’s exploration of body cameras had triggered concerns from the unions.
On Tuesday, however, Capt. Gary Traversa told the council that the testing — to be run over six to eight weeks — had been put on “pause” due to concerns raised by the patrol officers’ and supervisors’ divisions of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 447.
Traversa declined that night to describe what specific issue had been raised by officers and supervisors.
When The Eagle got in touch with Lt. Matthew Hill, the president of the supervisors’ union, he said he was “unable to provide any specifics beyond what has already been publicized.”
Investigator Thomas J. Bowler, president of the patrol officers’ union, said he couldn’t offer any details on the subject.
Over the last year, Wynn — and at times — representatives from the unions — have said they generally support use of the technology.
The chief said previously the biggest obstacle was the state’s wiretapping statute. Wynn had said he saw a conflict between how the cameras might need to be used in the field and the state’s wiretapping laws, which require two-party consent to audio recordings.
Wynn said back in May he was no longer concerned about that issue after a conversation with the attorney for the Massachusetts Association of Police Chiefs.
Around that time, the chief and Hill appeared before the City Council’s ordinance and rules subcommittee to discuss body cameras.
“I’m actually in agreement with many of the speakers tonight, that body worn cameras — by and large — would be good for the community and our department and our officers,” Wynn said, referencing residents who spoke in favor of body cameras.
Earlier statement of support
Hill told the subcommittee members of the supervisors’ union were generally supportive of the cameras as well.
“None of my members have voiced any opposition to body cams,” Hill said. “However, it is subject to negotiation through collective bargaining.”
The three-year collective bargaining agreements between the supervisors’ union and patrol officers’ union and the city expired June 30. The city has yet to approve a new contract with either union.
Police unions across the commonwealth have fallen on both sides of the issue.
In Great Barrington and Sheffield, both local unions penned a letter of support for body cameras when their departments applied for and were granted state funding to start body camera programs.
In Somerville, the Tufts Daily reported that the local police supervisors’ union claimed in 2020 it asked the city to add provisions to its contract that would allow the department to use body cameras before city leadership eventually got on board.
In Chelsea, the representative for a local police union — which ultimately welcomed body cameras — told the Chelsea Record in 2021 that while officers supported the technology they were seeking additional compensation because “it is a huge liability. It’s not a change in working conditions, but a huge responsibility within our working conditions.”