Pittsfield City Council OKs $100K cut to police budget; other funds shifted

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PITTSFIELD — After residents demanded the city rethink how it spends taxpayer dollars, councilors on Monday voted to divert $85,000 from patrol officer salaries to fund clinicians to assist people in distress and moved to slash $100,000 from the Pittsfield Police Department's budget.

As the City Council's meeting stretched into its fifth hour, councilors had not voted on the full police department budget by press time.

The moves came after about a dozen residents participated in public comment, and virtually all expressed disapproval with the proposed increase in funding to the police department. Some explicitly asked for the department's $11.4 million budget be cut down to what it was in fiscal year 2019, and demanded the budget be reduced and reallocated to social services services and education.

Councilors asked Police Chief Michael Wynn to justify proposed expenditures on a list of items, including overtime, ammunition and personnel. The first cut came by unanimous vote, $50,000 slashed from funding proposed for equipment and uniforms prospective officers made after Wynn said he has 13 prospective recruits but budgeted for 15.

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Councilor Earl Persip failed to gain enough votes to transfer $50,000 from $120,000 budgeted for special event overtime into overtime for community outreach, a step he said would be a practical solution to increase officer outreach and take "the beginning steps of reform, in my opinion."

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The most outspoken advocate for reducing police funding, Councilor Helen Moon, said residents asked for cuts, not shifting funds from one expense to another. "I don't think this is an issue of having enough officers out there handing out ice cream. What they're concerned about is policing," she said.

Persip's subsequent motion, to cut the same amount from special events overtime all together passed by unanimous vote. He proposed moving $85,000 from nearly $4.3 million budgeted to fund 99 patrol officers, after Wynn said that the department as of Tuesday will have 84 officers on payroll, and four more in the academy.

Wynn said the department uses funding for the unfilled positions to fill deficits related to covering unfilled shifts. He said the $85,000 cut to patrol salaries will cause them to draw the conditional set them 1 to 2 years back on the staffing plan, but said adding clinicians would "lessen the burden to responding patrol officers" and guide them while assisting people in distress.

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Councilor Chris Connell said he would not reduce funding for patrol officers. Councilor Anthony Maffuccio agreed, noting that the department has long been short-staffed and working to increase ranks.

"To me this is a very dangerous precedent to set. We need officers," he said. "We need law and order in the city."

Persip's motion to transfer funds to pay for clinicians passed 8 to 3, with Connell, Kevin Morandi and Maffuccio voting no.


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