PITTSFIELD — Contract negotiations between the city and the union representing police supervisors stalled the launch of the Pittsfield Police Department’s body camera program, according to department emails obtained through a public records request and comments Tuesday by Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn.
The “pause” of the pilot program came as Pittsfield and four other Berkshire communities received more than $400,000 in state grant money to launch body camera programs.
In the latest iteration of the state’s body-worn camera grant program, the Baker-Polito administration awarded Pittsfield police $166,586.73 to launch a body camera program. The Dalton Police Department received $129,368, the North Adams Police Department received $94,492, the Cheshire Police Department received $26,196 and the Williamstown Police Department received $18,941.
Officials with the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security said the nearly $2.5 million in grants distributed by the administration this year will allow 27 departments to start new body-worn camera programs and five departments to expand their programs. Every department that applied this year received some funding.
Pittsfield is included in the count of departments looking to start a new body camera program. As of Tuesday night, Wynn told the City Council that program is now “back on track” and nearly ready to commence.
This is the news the City Council expected to receive in an update from Wynn a month ago.
Wynn wrote in a letter submitted to the council for its Oct. 25 meeting that the department “has undertaken a systematic process to implement the use of Body Worn Cameras (BWCs) by Pittsfield Police officers” since March. His letter closed with the news that the department expected to start with a pilot program with Axon body cameras later that week.
Then later that evening, Police Capt. Gary Traversa came before the council and said a set of “fairly recent delays” had caused the department to “hit the pause button” on launching the pilot program.
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.
Traversa said the delays developed in the 10 days prior to the meeting out of conversations with the officers and supervisors unions representing Pittsfield police — the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 447 and Local 447S respectively.
In the following weeks, The Eagle reached out to representatives from both the Local 447 and 447S asking them to explain their concerns with the program.
Those representatives either declined to comment or said they couldn’t comment further on the “concerns” they’d presented to the city that had paused the start of the pilot program.
Now, in emails between the union and police department leaders, obtained by The Eagle through public records requests, it appears the local supervisors union initially agreed to participate in the pilot program — and then withdrew support in an attempt to renegotiate their contract with the city.
Lt. Matt Hill, president of the supervisors’ union, wrote to Wynn, Traversa and Police Capt. Matt Kricherner that six union members had come forward to take part in the body camera trial program. Then, six days later, Sgt. Ryan Williams sent a letter from the union to Wynn, copying Hill and the union’s representative and attorney from the National Association of Government Employees.
That letter was not included in the records produced as part of The Eagle’s request.
Wynn told the council Tuesday that none of the concerns raised by the union were related to the technology itself. City Councilor Earl Persip III asked repeatedly if Wynn could specify what the concerns were, to which the chief replied: “I can’t discuss that in this forum, councilor. I’m happy to discuss it outside of here.”
“We had worked out all issues related to the technology and the policy,” Wynn said. “The issues they brought up in the 11th hour were not related to the body camera program.”
Wynn told the council that he had initially planned to go forward with the training program for the cameras — the last step before the pilot program launched — because none of the officers selected to lead the pilot were a part of the supervisors union.
On Oct. 24, the day before Wynn was set to originally update the City Council of the progress of the body camera pilot program, the chief received an email from the officers union stating that “the IBPO 447 memberships is in support of the supervisors and will not be participating in any body camera program until the supervisors contract is [redacted].”
“I can’t initiate a body camera pilot program if I don’t have any participants who are willing to wear the cameras,” Wynn said. “I wasn’t in a position to order them to wear the cameras if I didn’t initiate impact bargaining with them.”
On Oct. 25, the chief notified his staff that he would need to schedule “impact bargaining sessions” sometime over the next two and a half weeks with the union.
The state guide to collective bargaining law for public employees describes “impact bargaining” as a situation in which an employer has an “obligation to bargain over the impacts of its decision on employees’ wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.”
It describes several situations that would trigger this kind of bargaining, including “implementing a policy that changes the level of services offered.”
Wynn’s emails indicate he was out of town in Atlanta at the time and he would serve notice “of my intent to impact bargain the use of the cameras during the [testing and evaluation period]” when he got back to Pittsfield.
The chief asked Russell Dupere, a Westfield labor attorney with the city, to help guide him through the process, writing, “I’ve never actually had to hold impact bargaining sessions before.”
Mayor Linda Tyer urged Dupere and Wynn to coordinate quickly so that the chief could give notice to the unions by the end of the week, Oct. 28. The following day, Tyer wrote Wynn and Dupere that “I would like to be part of this discussion with you BEFORE any communications are sent to the unions.”
Later that day Wynn emailed his notice of intent to impact bargain with the unions.
Wynn said Tuesday that he told the unions he intended to “start the program regardless of their concerns that were not related to the technology or the policy.” He said he had every intention of following through with that statement but the person who was supposed to lead the training was out of work due to a surgery.
He said the department “resolved the issues with the union that was outstanding” on Nov. 10 but the training was then delayed due to “a personnel issue that unfortunately took priority.”
The chief said the training session with officers is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon and if no issues arise, the pilot program will likely start at the end of the week.