Public relates tales of tension regarding police shooting range

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PITTSFIELD — Residents of Lathers Avenue described a tense existence during the City Council's public comment period Tuesday.

Ed Barrett, one of several residents to speak to the controversy surrounding the police shooting range on Utility Drive, said he was unaware of the range when he bought his home more than 12 years ago. And at the time, he said, fewer gunshots emanated from the city-owned property.

Now, shooting at the range affects his family's daily life, he said.

"Our son cannot play outside without feeling startled and scared by gunshots," he told councilors.

Despite the fact that Police Chief Michael Wynn closed the range last week, Barrett said "someone was shooting there yesterday."

"We value the commitment and service of our police officers and we hope that they can see that we are asking for a compromise to improve our daily lives," Barrett said.

The range, in operation since 1999, sparked controversy in recent weeks as the Police Department completed a round of firearms training. Wynn closed the range last week after Building Commissioner Gerald Garner and Richard Dohoney, the city's attorney, determined that shooting at the property violated city zoning regulations.

Wynn's order ceasing operations on the property is legally binding, Dohoney told councilors.

Police Capt. Matt Kirchner said that if residents hear shooting at the range, that it isn't anyone from the Pittsfield Police Department and to call police. He said that anyone shooting on the property is trespassing and therefore criminally liable.

"It's very clearly marked," he said.

Capt. Mark Trapani told councilors that, through the years, volume at the range increased.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol pushed Kirchner and Trapani for answers on why complaints from residents were, as he said, "ignored."

"To me, it was a no-brainer that this was totally unacceptable," Krol said.

Trapani said the department was exploring lead remediation and sound mitigation in response to complaints from residents.

"I don't believe that anyone's complaint was ignored or pushed aside," Kirchner said.

Mayor Linda Tyer told The Eagle last week that the city is exploring alternative locations for the department to train. Kirchner said the department is looking for an immediate solution for its Special Response Team, and will need a longer-term solution for the next round of department-wide training in the fall.

To that point, Councilor At Large Melissa Mazzeo said: "Let's not make the same mistake twice."

Councilors voted to refer the matter to their Committee on Public Health and Safety, which tentatively is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Aug. 8 in the council chambers.

Councilors also referred to their Committee on Ordinances and Rules a proposed ordinance that would form a new police advisory and review board, whose members would serve as liaisons between the Police Department and the public. The board also would review complaints filed against the department, but only after the department's internal affairs investigation is complete — a point of contention between proponents of the board and the administration.

"The mayor proposes a board that would be almost entirely reliant on police reports," said Igor Greenwald, leader of a group of residents pushing for a citizens board to review police complaints. "Which it will have little choice but to rubber-stamp."

Greenwald called for more accountability.

"This is a force that's recently yielded a whole basket of bad apples," he said.

Drew Herzig, chairman of the Human Rights Commission, asked councilors to move forward on the issue with an eye toward leveling police power.

"It's very hard to build trust when there's a power imbalance," he said. "There's a lot of distrust."

The ordinance as proposed by Tyer will appear on the Committee on Ordinances and Rules agenda at its next meeting, tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 6 in the council chambers.

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

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