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NORTH ADAMS POLICE DEPARTMENT

Life in a patched-up station erodes morale, police officers say

NAPD Chief Wood

Chief Jason Wood stands in the entrance to the detective bureau at the police station in North Adams. Conditions in the building affect the department's ability to retain officers, as well as the ability to do their jobs, officers say. They want change, and they want to move into a better building,  even while the city hunts for a long-term solution. “I do know it affects the morale of the officers,” Wood says.

NORTH ADAMS — When the union complained about possible asbestos in the Police Department, it sparked a visit last spring by the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards.

A short-term fix: One area of the floor now covered with carpet and tape.

“I feel like every issue we bring ends up getting a Band-Aid,” said Dave Sherman, a detective and president of the union that represents city police.

Officers working in the 66-year-old building feel frustrated and worry that the conditions affect the public. Conditions affect the department's ability to retain officers, as well as the ability to do their jobs, officers say. They want change, and they want to move into a better building, even while the city hunts for a long-term solution.

“I just want to see something happen,” said Dave Zustra, a detective at the Police Department and the union’s secretary. “My biggest concern is for the safety of the people that we’re bringing into the building [and] the people working in the building.”

Lack of accessibility is a key concern.

A few months ago, Sherman had to interview a witness to an incident. The man had a physical disability, and the police station entrance is at the top of a flight of stairs. The witness had to be carried in.

“It’s a shame that we can’t even meet the basic requirements of someone that has trouble with stairs,” Zustra said. “It’s shameful, it really is, that it’s this day and age that we’re outdated.” 

The holding cells also are a problem, and the Department of Public Health has flagged health and safety violations there in its inspections.

There is no drinking water access in the cells, so, officers provide water one cup at a time to people held in custody. But, when all officers are out on calls, people have to wait, and end up trying to get their attention by banging on the cell door, Zustra and Sherman said.

Zustra worries that the conditions are bad for retention.

“I do know it affects the morale of the officers,” Chief Jason Wood said.

While Sherman is happy that a newly formed working group in the city is looking at possible sites for a new building, he has qualms, because it means more waiting. "It doesn't alleviate our issues over the next five years."

While the city figures out a long-term plan, officers want the department to move into a temporary space, Sherman and Zustra say.

They toured a building on Holden Street that used to house a juvenile court. The property is accessible and has holding cells, according to Wood. “When I saw that space, I liked that space,” he said.

Mayor Tom Bernard cautions that the site would be expensive.

“It's one of the things we’re looking at. The building has a lot to recommend it. It is not, however, move-in ready,” he said.

Renting it in the short term would add an operating cost to the city, but it is on a list of possible sites that the working group is looking at. That group has not yet made a public announcement on its progress. 

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6272.

Reporter

Greta Jochem, a Report for America Corps member, joined the Eagle in 2021. Previously, she was a reporter at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. She is also a member of the investigations team.

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