PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The creation of a reimagined Police Advisory Board will now go before the full City Council.
The council's ordinance and rules subcommittee hashed out the details of the new board at Monday's meeting and voted a positive recommendation for adoption.
The version approved closely aligns with the version put forth by the mayor, and the mayor's proposal was one that was sharply criticized by some of the original petitioners for not providing the board with enough authority to investigate misconduct of officers.
The conversation began about a year ago when Igor Greenwald and others pitched the idea of an oversight board to Mayor Linda Tyer. But Greenwald said the mayor halted communication shortly after with many of the original petitioners and proposed a watered-down ordinance that Greenwald believes stripped the board of any real authority.
The City Council first took up the issue in April looking to craft an ordinance to establish a board to provide public input into police activities, field complaints, and increase trust between the department and the public. The mayor's proposal was recently fine-tuned by a subcommittee of the local branch of the NAACP. Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo then prepared a number of amendments to that proposal, most of which were approved by the subcommittee Monday night.
Drew Herzig, Arlene Kirsch, and Joanna Rebecca Thompson on the NAACP's social justice subcommittee said it added training requirements for board members and stays within legal parameters regarding the Civil Service process of officer discipline.
"We need this board to analyze the context in which police work, the laws, regulations, policies, and culture," Thompson said.
Overall, the NAACP members said the proposal strips away adversarial aspects of such a committee to build cooperation between the community and the Police Department in hopes to bridge the gap between the community and officers.
Herzig said the proposal has received support from Police Chief Michael Wynn, the presidents of the Police Department labor unions, and Tyer. Herzig added that he ran it by officials on a similar panel, the Cambridge Police Oversight Board, who also said the language was good.
Greenwald says the proposal still doesn't go far enough. He wants a board to have independent fact-finding authority so that if there is a complaint, the board consisting of community members would be able to address it. He questioned why anybody would bring a complaint to the board if it doesn't have such authority.
"It is designed to fail. These cosmetic changes are designed to fail just like the last two committees," Greenwald said.
A police advisory board has been attempted on multiple occasions in the city's history. One existed just a few years ago but it morphed into a Public Safety Advisory Committee, which later became extinct because of a lack of membership.
Tyer said her proposal differs from those previous iterations because it gives the group access to the internal affairs process, allowing for a public airing of such matters.
But because the Civil Service process designates the chief of police as being responsible for handling discipline, the committee's authority essentially ends with such a hearing. The group can make recommendations to the chief, mayor, and City Council, but there is no obligation that any recommended changes would be made.
City Solicitor Richard Dohoney said even though the authority of the group is less than some may have wanted, the board will still provide a significant amount transparency.
"This will provide a level of transparency the city has never seen in the Police Department," Dohoney said.
Caccamo further amended the proposal to require the members live in the city of Pittsfield, are able to pass a background check, are over the age of 18, and shall not be a city worker or immediate family member of someone in the Police Department.
He was unsuccessful in a pitch to add language calling on the mayor to seek board members with characteristics fitting for such a board including the demonstrated ability to fair and non-biased. Caccamo said the latter was intended to keep people with an ax to grind with police off the board and instead seek members who will be impartial.
Caccamo then successfully motioned to outline more specifically the types of training members will take to be on the board including an understanding of the Police Department's policies, use of force, Civil Service and Open Meeting Laws, and more. He then added a line calling on board members to go on patrol with officers on a quarterly basis.
Wynn spoke highly of providing the members opportunities for ride-alongs and said the department could accommodate those. He said the committee members will benefit from understanding what it is like on the streets when decisions are made rather than being in a well-lit room at City Hall rendering judgment.
Caccamo then successfully added language directing the mayor to appoint a diverse membership and language outlining the frequency of meetings being no less than quarterly and no more than bi-weekly.
Caccamo was unsuccessful in a pitch to lower the number of board members to five. Instead, the rest of the subcommittee went along with Ward 6 Councilor John Krol's push to expand the board membership to 11 — the size started at 13 and was scaled down to nine to become more manageable.
The makeup of the committee is specifically spelled out to includes at least some representation from the NAACP, the immigrant community, youth, and the faith communities. Caccamo attempted to make those less restrictive but was outvoted.
"I think having more voices is better than having less voices," said Chairman Peter White.
Even after a lengthy period of time discussing the creation of such committee, Caccamo and Krol both felt more could have been done to give more power to the group.
"I think there are some scenarios this board could still have some powers and duties that meet the needs of the original petitioners wanting something with teeth," Caccamo said.
Caccamo pushed to table the issue to craft some additional language to do so but was unsuccessful. Krol said that while it lacks "teeth" the proposal is better than nothing.
The National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement lists eight essentials for a civilian police oversight board: independence, funding, access to critical information, rapport, authority, the ability to review police policies, community support, and transparency. Igor Greenwald says the mayor's plan for such a board doesn't do that.
As the job of a police officer becomes "more dangerous and thankless each and every day," Igor Greenwald "belittled" the good work officers do, so says the police unions. Greenwald has been behind an effort to create a Police Oversight Committee and at a recent subcommittee shared shorties and brought others to testify about negative interactions with police. Greenwald contends there is a "a whole basket of bad apples" in the Police Department and an oversight committee to handle complaints o
Last year, Greenwald sat down with Mayor Linda Tyer, some city councilors, and City Solicitor Richard Dohoney to talk about a new committee that would have more authority. Attorneys, however, determined that Greenwald's vision faced legal issues — particularly around the committee's ability to subpoena witnesses and officers. The attorneys said that it violated the Civil Service process for discipline — including the rights of the accused officer. And that it could conflict with a criminal inves
Petitioners behind an effort to establish a citizen's police oversight committee say the mayor's proposal is destined to fail. In the Fall, Igor Greenwald headed an effort to petition the city to create a new Police Oversight Committee. Mayor Linda Tyer has since rewritten the ordinance which created one years ago. But, Greenwald and others say the Tyer has essentially gutted the intent of it.
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.
The City Council agrees with having a citizen's committee to peer into the Police Department. But, it is more a matter of whose terms. That's how City Council President phrased it in the final hours of Tuesday night, as the City Council spent a lengthy amount of time on a petition from resident Craig Gaetani to establish a police oversight committee. The councilors hadn't really disagreed with the principles of such a committee, but rather, whether it should be a new committee created under t
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