Members roll up sleeves at first meeting of new Pittsfield police panel

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PITTSFIELD — It's going to be "labor-intensive," city leaders warned members of the new Police Advisory and Review Board.

Eight individuals of the 11-member committee held their first meeting Tuesday, in City Hall, hearing presentations from Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn and City Solicitor Steve Pagnotta.

The City Council this year approved the creation of the new board. Mayor Linda Tyer proposed forming the board in hopes of building in more direct public accountability for the city's police work and uniting the Pittsfield Police Department with the community it serves.

Pagnotta told members he expects they'll review police matters "both positive and negative." They can receive complaints against the department from the community, and Wynn said that, legally, anything board members receive in writing must be passed along to his department so that it can undergo an internal investigation.

Wynn said it usually takes the department about 60 days to complete an internal investigation, and the ordinance that forms the new board stipulates that he must turn over reports pertaining to an internal investigation within 60 days of completion.

The board is also required to report annually to the City Council about its work.

"It provides a vital avenue to allow citizens and a police department to interface in a way both sides will learn from each other and improve quality of life in the city," Pagnotta told members.

Wynn said compliance with Open Meeting Law has been a "sticking point" with previous iterations of the board, for which specific functions were less clear and have since fizzled. He said board members will be asked to undergo training in the law, as well as go on quarterly ride-alongs with police officers.

"You're going to gain some valuable insight sitting in a squad car " he told them. "The world looks a little different."

Wynn gave members an overview of the department and its priorities. He said he and his team do not shy away from feedback.

"We know that we're accountable to the public," he said. "It's not enough to be accountable in the Pittsfield Police Department."

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One member, the Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross, asked about diversity among the ranks, and Wynn said the city is bound by Civil Service Law, meaning he has a specific list to recruit from and "I can't do anything about who comes up on that list."

He said his officers "are truly experts in their field," while acknowledging challenges with short staffing and an aging police station. Staffing shortages also limit his ability to provide professional development, he also noted.

The board members

Members of the new panel took time to introduce themselves during the meeting, speaking to the experience that brought them to the table.

Michael Feldberg serves as executive director of the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom, served previously as the director of the criminal justice program at Boston University, and brings experience in police ethics and training.

Drew Herzig, chairman of the city's Human Rights Commission, introduced himself, as did Ivan Victoriano of the Berkshire Immigrant Center.

Retired Judge Alfred Barbalunga brings his time on the bench to the table.

From the faith community, Sholes-Ross, of First Baptist Church — she is the church's first female and first African-American pastor — introduced herself and asked questions, as did the Rev. Sloan Letman of Second Congregational Church, who also represents the Berkshire NAACP on the board.

Ellen Maxon worked for the Vermont Human Rights Commission and also previously worked as an attorney. Lynn Wallace, who works for Greylock Federal Credit Union, is currently holding a financial literacy program with inmates at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction.

Not present were Erin Sullivan, of Berkshire Children and Families; Kyreasia Solomon, a student at Taconic High School; and Bruce Stump, a member of the law enforcement community.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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