PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor Linda Tyer is looking to bring a fresh perspective to the Police Department.
Tyer has put forth a petition to revamp the Public Safety Advisory Committee back into a Police Advisory Committee. The citizen's group will serve as a tool to bring new opinions and ideas to police policies and regulations.
"Public Safety Advisory had a very broad purpose and didn't have a department head who was sort of the liaison to the committee. It really covered police, fire, public health, buildings, all of the things we put under the public safety umbrella. Police Advisory Committee is a very specific group with one specific task, much more focused and intentional," Tyer said.
Particularly, the mayor is proposing giving the committee a role in reviewing internal affairs reports - a role the previous iteration of the Police Advisory Committee didn't have.
"We are giving this committee the ability to review the internal affairs cases. This is another effort on our part to be transparent, to build trust, to educate a group of citizens about the role of the Police Department and the process of internal affairs," Tyer said.
The reports will be available after the internal affairs process, but the committee will have a chance to review them and voice its opinion on the outcome. It is also a place for residents to take concerns regarding policing. The group doesn't have the authority to investigate the complaints but is asked to provide opinions on such things as the ultimate discipline that was handed out for the chief to consider on similar cases in the future.
"This gives the chief of police an opportunity to have a different layer of perspective when it comes to citizen's complaints," Tyer said.
She has also proposed the ordinance includes language that calls for representation from the Human Rights Commission, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Berkshire Immigration Center. In total, those will serve as three of the 13 seats on the committee.
"We really want it to be reflective of the community we represent so there are diverse voices at the table," Tyer said.
The committee will also have a role in advocating on behalf of the department. Tyer said with issues such as new equipment, solving the issue with the shooting range, and building a new station, the citizen's group will have the ability to weigh in and take an active role.
"There are lots of opportunities for this citizen's advisory committee to be engaged with the chief, mayor, and City Council. This is another piece of our overall desire to have a comprehensive, well-staffed, well-trained, well-equipped, community-engaged, police department," Tyer said.
In the simplest form, the committee is eyed to be a "resource for our chief of police," the mayor said.
"I think they will play an important, vital role," Tyer said.
The city had a Police Advisory Committee for about three years when former Mayor Daniel Bianchi brought it back into existence. It had a role in hiring a crime analyst, worked to revamp traffic fines, provided guidance during the feasibility study for a new police station, helped create the downtown ambassador program, and worked to address jaywalking at Pittsfield High School.
But the group was somewhat hamstrung by a disparity between operational aspects of the department and broader issues. Chief Michael Wynn pushed back on topics that would publicly air the department's enforcement operations.
Tyer said the group still won't have authority over operations and the ordinance was rewritten in a way to give the committee a stronger role in the policy aspect.
In 2015, the former Police Advisory Committee expanded its role to take on issues with other departments. But, it struggled to find a real identity and spots were left unfilled. Tyer met with the group in 2016 to discuss a way to move forward but ultimately, the group had its ups and downs trying to move forward. The committee then fizzled out.
Last Fall, Igor Greenwald, members of the NAACP, and other citizens started a petition calling for an oversight committee.
And now, Tyer has an ordinance heading to the City Council for approval that brings a bit more of a clear direction.
If approved, Tyer said all 13 members would have to be appointed. She encouraged those who were active in the Public Safety Advisory Committee to submit letters of interest.
"There is lots of room for people who want to stay on and continue to serve but also to hopefully bring in some new voices and perspectives," Tyer said.
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