Pittsfield mayor proposes new police advisory/review board

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PITTSFIELD — Many agree that the city should have a board that bridges gaps between the Police Department and the community, but how that board should look is a trickier topic.

On Tuesday, the City Council will get a first look at an ordinance proposed by Mayor Linda Tyer that, if passed, would form a Police Advisory and Review Board. The body would review resident complaints filed against the department, help the department develop strategies that enhance public relations, and provide a public forum for residents to air police matters.

"I certainly want citizens to have access to the chief in an intentional way through this advisory committee," Tyer told The Eagle. "This is an opportunity for people to come to the table, to be part of a committee that is purposefully meant to help us listen to each other and learn from each other about the relationship between citizens and police."

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the council chambers, as the elevator in City Hall is up and running again.

The city already has an advisory board that officials call "defunct." The body fizzled out in recent years as, for the second time in the past decade, board members struggled to define their role.

Police Chief Michael Wynn said in an earlier interview that the board was a useful public forum — a previous revitalization of the board came a decade ago at his behest — but he was skeptical of resident involvement in complaint review.

Wynn could not be reached for comment for this story.

Under the proposed ordinance, Wynn would pass along resident complaints already investigated by the department's internal affairs unit, and the board would review them and make policy recommendations based on that review.

The board would consist of no more than 13 mayoral appointees, the ordinance states. It would have at least one member with law enforcement experience, a representative of the Human Rights Commission, a representative from the Berkshire County branch of the NAACP and a representative of the Berkshire Immigrant Center.

Igor Greenwald, leader of the resident group pushing for a police review board, said he is disappointed with the ordinance. About nine months have passed since the group's initial request, Greenwald said, and he had hoped that Tyer would propose something with more teeth.

"This falls far short of what effective oversight models look like both across the state and around the country," he said.

The board, as formed in Tyer's ordinance, doesn't have any legal authority like boards in some other cities, and so Greenwald argued that it will be ineffective.

"It's doomed to the same fate of the two prior boards," he said.

Greenwald points to the powers of Springfield's police review board, which has subpoena power and holds closed-door disciplinary hearings for police officers based on resident complaints that it deems worthy.

Richard Dohoney, the city's attorney, said that giving the Pittsfield board the same power would likely require a charter change and new union contracts.

Obstacles aside, Tyer said she put forward a proposal based on her confidence in the Police Department and what's the best fit for Pittsfield.

"I think this has got the right balance, the balance that's right for our city," she said. "This is a good place to start."

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

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