Pittsfield leaders work to fill Reid resource officer position amid community pushback

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PITTSFIELD — Violent outbursts can be scary for schools without a dedicated resource officer, said one parent behind an online petition signed by hundreds as of Tuesday afternoon.

Steve White said he and his wife, April, started a petition pushing for a full-time school resource officer last week after an incident at Reid Middle School left his son feeling uneasy. The school has gone without a designated police officer since classes resumed following the holiday break — unlike the city's other middle and high schools, which all have a resource officer.

"A resource officer could have talked the kid down," White said of a child who he said began "kicking, punching and head-butting his classroom door."

The Pittsfield Police Department, which has struggled in recent years to stay ahead of attrition and increase its force, began covering the school resource officer position on a rotating basis starting Friday, Police Chief Michael Wynn said. The school has seen patchy police coverage since Karen Kalinowsky, formerly the school resource officer at Reid, retired in October 2017.

And as more and more guns find their way into the hands of young people with bad intentions, White said he fears any regular incident could take a turn.

"It's normal to have lockdowns in place in school ," he said. "When you realize the resource officer's gone, you go, 'oh boy.'"

The police department had appointed former officer Martin Streit to the school resource officer position on a temporary basis last May, Wynn said. Streit's status was upgraded to permanent in September.

But late last year, Streit was one of five officers to resign from the department within a short time, Wynn said. Several left for other law enforcement agencies, one left for another city department and one officer resigned from the academy while still in training.

"These resignations, all within the Patrol Division, reduced our Patrol staffing to the low 40s," Wynn said in an email to The Eagle. "At these levels, we are unable to allow any transfers from Patrol to a Special Assignment, in order to fill all Patrol shifts."

Still, he said city leaders decided the best solution at the moment would be to rotate patrol officers through the school in order to provide coverage.

Some 20 of the next 23 school days will be covered with a full-time police officer, Lt. Gary Traversa said.

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"This is currently split between 3 Officers, which provides the school with some consistency," Traversa said in an email.

Ward 7 Councilor Tony Maffuccio said that while he understands there are police staffing issues in play, he promised to file a petition pushing for a more permanent solution.

"Times have changed and we need to act upon this very quickly," he said.

Wynn said the department's police force sits at 85, while its budgeted strength is 99 and best practices would peg them at 120. Four of the 85 remain in training, Wynn said.

In light of the resignations, Wynn said he began using traffic officers to meet minimum shift requirements and reduced the rank of a temporary supervisor and allowed investigators and supervisors to fill available overtime slots on patrol.

Meantime, the department has five candidates scheduled to begin the academy in February.

During the last stint without a dedicated resource officer at Reid, Traversa said the department covered the school on average of three days a week through February of last year, when one officer working the detail went out on leave. The BB gun issue emerged in the months that followed that drop-off.

Poverty and "high needs" are also over-represented at this particular city school. About 61 percent of the student population at Reid meets the state's definition of economically disadvantaged — versus 54 percent districtwide — and about 67 percent of the student population is considered high-needs.

White said he hopes the city works toward a permanent fix.

"I just hope nothing happens," he said. "God forbid. I hope nothing happens to anybody that could have been prevented."

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


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