New North Adams Police Chief Has Community-Based Vision
Lt. Jason Wood, a 16-year veteran of the force, was named on Wednesday as the city's first appointed police chief in nearly 40 years.
On Wednesday afternoon he ticked off a list of priorities ahead of him when he's sworn in May 1 to replace retired Police Chief Michael Cozzaglio.
There's getting his command team in place, selecting someone to replace him, get his force on board with his vision and making some aesthetic changes at the cramped and outdated police station to help boost morale.
Then there's executing that vision: building trust within the community, strengthening partnerships with local agencies, updating policies and procedures and developing specialized divisions like an accident reconstruction team, and recruiting officers.
"I mean, there's a lot of things I want to do a lot, a lot of work to do," he said, later adding he has a very supportive force willing to help him.
"I think we have a great group of guys and girls over there right now. They're very enthusiastic about this upcoming change, they're completely on board," he said. "They want to see the department move in the same direction I do."
Mayor Thomas Bernard said the search process "made it clear that Lt. Wood is the right person for the job and the right person for North Adams to lead the department into the next phase of its development."
He particularly pointed to the 42-year-old's strong roots in North Adams as a significant factor in elevating him above the 40 other candidates who applied for the post.
Wood, he said, understood how to to make change in North Adams because he already had "good, deep, solid relationships in the community" and an understanding of the demographics, an experience that the other two candidates did not perhaps have.
"The things that are foundational to policing in North Adams that Lt. Wood understands because he and the officers that he works with and the community contends with those every day," the mayor said. "And that was a big factor. And then finally, you know, for me there's an intangible — it's somebody that you can have the ability to sit ... and have a good close trusted conversation with."
North Adams may be small but its crime rate is among the highest in the state. Wood has already been able to lower that slightly by finding last year a coding error in the department's reporting software. There may be other issues with software that can be sussed out but he cautioned it probably wouldn't move the numbers much.
"The reality is, you know, North Adams is a busy city, I mean, you can't sugarcoat it, you see what happens," he said. "But the best we can do is stay vigilant, be aggressive in enforcement and I think by tying in our community bonds and connections, regional agencies, with the mayor's reaching out with a Freeman Center, bringing that and more into the picture with us. And, you know, hopefully we can you can start making some some headway to the lower those numbers. ...
"So we're just gonna have to be persistent, vigilant and realistic."
The mayor has joined the task force effort of Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington to address domestic violence in partnership with the Elizabeth Freemen Center. Bernard said he wanted the chief involved with that and to develop partnerships with other human service agencies that can be a resource.
Wood said he wants a collaborative approach and work with the community. For instance, the department is pursuing a grant, Safe and Successful Youth Initiative, through Berkshire Children and Families to reach older, at-risk children.
"We're going to engage in the community as far as getting the guys out there with the youth more, maybe impromptu events," he said. "I want to bring back 'coffee with a cop.' I see good things happening with that in Pittsfield with Chief [Michael] Wynn. I would like to do community meetings once a month see what their concerns are seeing, if we're missing anything."
He and Bernard were both open to the idea of a police advisory group and are watching the newly constituted commission in Pittsfield to see how it works.
The force has seen a bit of changeover over the past months; in January, the police union sent a letter to the Public Safety Committee expressing officers' concerns over the lack of manpower.
Since then, the city has removed itself from Civil Service and has four new recruits headed for the academy. Wood said he wants to continue that recruitment by ensuring his officers are involved in the schools and youth programs to build them up as role models and by attending career fairs.
"A program like Running with the Law, that builds up police officers as role models and relationships and that's the sort of future career aspiration inside of it," he said.
Wood said policing has changed a lot in just during his time on the force. It was a little "rougher," he said, when he first started but police have had to adapt to societal changes.
And while it's not soft, there's more of a two-pronged approach of being aggressive in enforcement, particularly with the opioid epidemic, and being more resourceful for victims, or addicts or those affected by addiction, in helping them find counseling.
Wood said there was no defining moment that led him — or his younger brother, a state trooper — to police work.
"I like helping people you know, I think maybe when you're younger, you're looking at the glamour and glitz of being a cop and that turned out to be 2 percent of it," he laughed. "We've gotten into the career and we've done very well."
His leadership style is to offer inspiration and be positive, he said. "For me, I said this several times recently, I found if you can treat people with respect and some common sense you're going to get a lot done."
He's ready to put his vision to work and prepared to continue pursue his bachelor's degree once he's settle into his new post.
"I take this opportunity and position very seriously," Wood said. "I want to see the North Adams Police Department become the best police force in the county if I could.
"I know what I want to change, but the things that are going to last and grow roots — we're going to have to take our time and do it right."
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