Late last year, Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a landmark reform bill that will hopefully bring more accountability and oversight to policing in Massachusetts. At the center of this legislation is the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, and one of its members is poised to bring not only considerable expertise but some Berkshire representation to the panel.
The new nine-member commission is tasked with creating a statewide system for certifying new officers to serve on Massachusetts police forces, recertifying existing officers and decertifying officers for misconduct. The commission was appointed by the governor and Attorney General Maura Healey, and Gov. Baker made a great pick in Chief Wynn.
In addition to serving as Pittsfield’s top cop for more than a decade, Chief Wynn has gleaned policing knowledge from nearly every angle. Before becoming chief, he served as a patrol officer, a shift supervisor and an administrative captain. He holds a master’s degree in criminal justice. He’s not only received police training but taught it, too, having served as an instructor for programs like Justice System Training and Research Institute at Roger Williams University and the Municipal Police Training Committee.
He’s also shown a willingness to reach out to the community he serves, acknowledging the systemic challenges to keeping vulnerable communities safe and making police more accountable. As of last year, he is a member of the national leadership council for Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a nonprofit that works to steer youth away from violence and crime and keep them out of the criminal justice system entirely. And when Berkshire Interfaith Organizing led a march last year to protest unjust police violence and call for change in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Chief Wynn was there with them, vowing to join community leaders in seeking systemic change toward more responsible policing and a more equitable society.
That is, after all, what the POST Commission should be about: proactively improving the quality and fairness of policing in the commonwealth. Identifying harmful elements in law enforcement and systemically rooting them out is an integral part of that improvement process. Sometimes that might mean decertifying officers who have abused their power; other times it might require a sea change in culture at a department that has lost the trust of the community it serves. Oftentimes, these issues go hand-in-hand, and while municipalities differ in their relationships with their police forces, no community is immune from these ills, as Williamstown is unfortunately learning.
Much is asked of our local police departments, especially the understaffed and rural ones. They deserve to be well-equipped with the training they need to do their jobs and get home safely. But the communities they serve deserve justice when police officers fail to live up to their duty and harm their constituency, and there needs to be a universal accountability system that will flag when those officers move from one Bay State force to another. Massachusetts was behind many of its peers by not having a statewide police certification system, but the POST Commission should rectify that.
It’s also refreshing that a statewide initiative such as this includes a strong voice from our county to give much-needed perspective from the Berkshires and the greater Western Massachusetts region. After the Pittsfield chief’s appointment, it was encouraging to hear him speak up for developments in police training resources that work not just for bigger forces like Boston’s but also for departments that rely on mostly part-time officers, as is the case in many of our smaller, rural communities.
All of this makes Chief Wynn a fine addition to the POST Commission, which includes other law enforcement personnel as well as experts in law, mental health and social services. This legislation is a good start toward better policing in the commonwealth, but the conversation must continue until all Americans feel that they are truly served and protected by those entrusted with their safety. We hope the commission can foster that conversation, and get move Massachusetts toward that end.