PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The day after authorities apprehended an escaped inmate after a three-day search, many residents tuned into the radio and heard the voices of the sheriff and officers who made the arrest telling their side of the story.
It wasn't a local news program with reporters asking questions. It was the first episode of "On Patrol with PPD," a brand-new radio show on WTBR, hosted by the Police Department.
"It is a little bit foreign but we are getting some good responses," Police Chief Michael Wynn, who hosts the show, said.
The show airs once a week and Wynn hopes to highlight the department's work and profile officers to introduce them to residents. And he'd like to discuss ongoing news stories.
"Historically, PPD was involved in a local access television program going back to when I was a patrol officer. Chief [Anthony] Riello hosted and sponsored 'Behind the Badge' and one of the things we realized as that show was coming to an end is that we were strongly supported on the crew by volunteers, particularly the students from Miss Hall's School, but if you couldn't guarantee crew presence, it wasn't feasible to do it," Wynn said.
"We could get a couple of people in front of the cameras but we couldn't necessarily stop our operational template to get behind the camera."
That show sputtered out. But recently, Pittsfield Community Television took over WTBR-FM 89.7, which was formerly housed in the belly of Taconic High School, and moved the studio to its offices on Federico Drive. With that, the Police Department wanted to get trained on the equipment so that if there is an emergency, the department can use the radio station to push notifications to the residents.
"The principal underlying intent was practice using the equipment," Wynn said.
Conversations continued and with radio being less personnel intensive, Wynn with Lt. Gary Traversa and Officer Darren Derby agreed to produce a show.
"We knew that would be more manageable. We could do that even if we could only get one on-air personality out there, it could still work," the chief said. "The other part of it, independent of that decision, we had already been working with WTBR prior to the decision to figure out a way for our staff to learn how to access the station and if necessary pre-empt their signal in the event of an emergency because we needed to know there was one frequency that would be the city's go-to frequency."
Every Friday at 9 a.m., residents can tune in and hear directly from the chief and others inside the department.
"Our hopes are to include as many of our personnel as to possible in different episodes and once we get comfortable, we'd like to have guests from collateral units or partners or from other city departments or community partners," Wynn said.
PCTV Executive Director Shawn Serre said programs like this are exactly what the new WTBR is intended for. Under the school's control, the station wasn't part of its educational programming and was struggling with content. It was run by a couple of volunteers who kept it on the air with a handful of shows. With the building of a new Taconic, no space was designed for a radio studio since it didn't fit the school's mission and PCTV agreed to take it over and finish the transformation the station had begun in going from an educational station to a community station.
"From the time it was a radio station in Taconic, it had leaning toward a community radio station but is now a true community radio station," Serre said. "The efforts of the PPD are a good fit."
One of the changes PCTV made was to limit the time for a talk radio program to one hour in an effort to allow as many people as possible to have a show. The organization has launched a bunch of new shows including a jazz program, a program broadcast entirely in Spanish, Irish music and country to a show with rarely played songs.
Serre said the non-profit provides an opportunity to have an array of shows that audiences can't get elsewhere. For two hours, it is a jazz station, for another hour it is talking about life events, for yet another hour it is a rock station. And Serre said working closely with the police to provide emergency broadcast services fits right into that community mission.
"It gives us an opportunity to do the right thing for the community," Serre said.
For the chief, the show is another way to get the department's messages out — another medium to reach citizens. While the radio is fun, there is a deliberateness to it. The Police Department is trying to respond to the 24-hour media market.
In 2015, President Barack Obama convened a task force on 21st-century policing and Wynn traveled to Washington, D.C., for briefings on the findings.
"One of the key pillars that came out of that report were recommendations that departments actively work on their transparency. That you develop a robust social media platform, that you work on your policy, that you develop some additional tools to use," Wynn said. "And then subsequent to that, the other thing that occurred for us was I had the opportunity to take a training team to what I consider one of the best law enforcement media schools I've attended."
That report was crafted after the Ferguson, Mo., riots and tensions between police and the community had reach a high. At the time, confidence in law enforcement was at one of the lowest points, especially among African Americans.
Those pillars include: building trust and legitimacy, updating policies, using social media and technology to community build, increasing community policing for crime reduction, increasing training, and to promoting officer wellness and safety. The report called on police to shed the mindset of warrior and embrace the idea of guardian.
"Law enforcement should also establish a culture of transparency and accountability to build public trust and legitimacy. This is critical to ensuring decision making is understood and in accord with state policy," reads the executive summary of the report.
"Law enforcement agencies should also proactively promote public trust by initiating positive non-enforcement activities to engage communities that typically have high rates of investigative and enforcement involvement with government agencies."
The Pittsfield Police Department didn't have much of a focus on the media prior to that. Wynn said he tried to be open but out of habit, the department often wasn't responsive and it was an afterthought. The local newspaper would be sent to print at 11 at night or so and if there was an incident at say 2 in the morning and it was wrapped up by 7 when the newsroom opened back up, there was no rush to inform the media, he said. Instead a release would be sent out a few days later.
But now, there is Facebook. There is Twitter. Everyone with a cell phone has a camera. Information passes quickly and often it can be inaccurate or information the police don't want circulated during an investigation. And once it takes off, there is no turning back.
"If bad information is out there, even if we get the right information out it doesn't necessarily counter the bad information," Wynn said. "We've got to be aware of it and we've got to do something to deal with that message."
If a tree crashes down and takes out power lines of South Street, officers are requested to take a photo and post it to Twitter, to let the community know that the road is closed. That would be a time when the department wants to get the information out quickly so people can avoid the area. Wynn said the department wants to understand the various media that people are using and use those effectively.
"It doesn't do us any good to get the information out if we are sending it out to dead air. If we are sending it out to the wrong channel, then we are not communicating," Wynn said.
The chief said the department is also hoping to have a stronger relationship with independent media. Wynn said he won't leave a major scene anymore unless he provides at least one statement to media sources on scene.
In the past, information came from whoever happened to have the most experience with talking to the media.
"We've had a pretty robust media policy. But we also had a habit where managing the media policy was the job of a select, a handful of people, and we didn't really consider it everybody's job. I don't think that was deliberate, it was just kind of a habit," Wynn said. "So although we train all of our people to never say no comment, that was replaced with 'you have to talk to the PIO.' That was never the intent."
The department has instructed all members to at least say something when asked. And that is a change. When Wynn started working in government, media wasn't seen in the same context.
"When I started in government service, even before I came to the Police Department, it was kind of like we are the government and that's media. Stay away and tell them what we have to tell them for our needs and they are going to try to sabotage our cases," Wynn said. "I don't know if that was ever the case but that was our perception. The reality is that we have a job to do, you have a job to do. In order for us to do our job well, we often depend on you to get our information and stories out. There has to be mutual respect."
He supported the idea of bringing closed internal affairs reports to a public forum with the Police Advisory and Review Commission because that gives him a chance to at least provide additional context.
"Am I thrilled that we are going to be airing dirty laundry? No. But, I'd rather I brief it out than send you a redacted internal affairs investigative report and you run a story on it without me getting to comment on it," Wynn said.
Over the last few years the department also has begun hosting events such as coffee with a cop or cones with a cop.
And the chief has been pushing opportunities for ride-alongs with an officer and participants in the new community academy can counter certain perspectives of the city and the department.
"We really see misunderstandings around a couple of key things. One is longtime residents who have been here for generations who can't shake the belief that, despite the fact we are a city, we are the Berkshires and the country and real crime doesn't happen here. That we don't have real gangs. They hold on to that belief. They go to the community academy and are briefed by anti-crime or the drug unit or go on a ride-along — that's your perception and here is the reality — and they are kind of taken aback," Wynn said. "The other one we really see is people who have no idea how few resources we actually have available at any given time."
Wynn said he'd like everyone in the city to ride along with an officer at least once.
"I have made offers as long as I have been in this office to many people who asked and many people who haven't asked. You should get in a car with one of my guys and see what is going on out there. I think it is a valuable tool ... As much you think you know about this city, it is a little bit different at 3 o'clock in the morning from the back of a parking lot or alley."
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State Sen. Adam Hinds takes a photo of Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito at the core bore site.
BLANDFORD, Mass. — Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, state Sen. Adam Hinds, state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, Blandford Select Board member Eric McVey and other local leaders observed a core bore drilling on Thursday afternoon to replace outdated utility poles and install broadband internet.
Blandford was awarded a Last Mile Infrastructure Grant worth $1.04 million in 2018 to deliver broadband access to residents. Following the demonstration, Baker announced $5 million supplemental funding for the Last Mile Program, which will cover roughly half the cost of connecting homeowners to newly installed networks in 21 eligible communities.
"Our administration has prioritized the Last Mile program because we recognize that access to broadband internet is critical for the success of families, businesses and communities in the 21st century economy," the governor said. "We are proud of our progress toward delivering broadband internet to every community in the commonwealth, including the progress we observed today in Blandford, and pleased to make an additional funding commitment to these communities."
The work in Blandford is being made possible by a $1.04 million Last Mile grant announced in 2018. More than 2,400 replacement utility poles will be installed as the result of these Last Mile efforts in Blandford alone and approximately 60,000 throughout all the Last Mile communities.
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