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Pittsfield Councilors Ask for Accountability on Police Grants

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Two city councilors are asking for more transparency and accountability within the Pittsfield Police Department in relation to department spending.
Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon and Councilor at Large Earl Persip III pointed out the need for accountability at last week's council meeting in regard to the city's acceptance of a $233,940 Support and Incentive grant from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.
"What we clearly know is, in some spaces the system is broken, people are asking for more accountability out of police departments," Persip said. "So I just think people want to be able to see where their tax dollars are ultimately going.
"I am not suggesting the chief or the Police Department is doing something they shouldn't be, I just think that people are more interested in where their dollars are spent in the Police Department, so I think as city councilors, as administration, we want to be open about that."
This is one of the several grants that department receives on a regular reoccurring basis from the State 911 Department based on the department's volume of emergency calls.  
Police Chief Michael Wynn said this grant is problematic and is something that he has been working to refine since the department first began receiving it. Because the Pittsfield department is not a regional public safety answering point, it is restricted on how the grant can be used.
"We're essentially in a position because we are a primary public safety answering point where the commonwealth expects us to take the money, but we're not allowed to what is called 'supplant' it, so even though I know the money is coming in I can't submit a budget planning on having the money there," he said.
Wynn explained that the money is used to first pay dispatch salaries and the surplus goes to the department's bottom line to offset other expenses. These other expenses, he said, would usually be things the department would want but that the state restricts what the money can be spent on, although regional operations can use the funds for a wide variety needs.
He said surplus funds go into tech-related projects that they haven't been able to fund elsewhere, including large-scale communications and upgraded dispatch center computers that State 911 wouldn't assist them with. Wynn gave the example of having to add monitors for the ShotSpotter program. 
Moon said the council already approves specific budget line items, so if an equipment line was approved and then a couple of hundred dollars were added to that line, it would be problematic.
"I'm a little offended at this whole 'they can transfer within their own departments and that's fine' because it's hundreds of thousands of dollars," she said. "So I think we can dig a little bit deeper and ask those questions and I believe it's an honest conversation and worth having."
Without accusing the PPD of wrongdoing, Persip suggested that Wynn and the Police Department find a way to let the citizens of Pittsfield know where their tax dollars are ultimately going and report back to the council.
"I've been looking for a better solution to handle this grant since the year I started receiving the grant. The second year I was in command, I refused to accept the grant because I couldn't figure out a way to do it," Wynn said. "This is the best we can do with the conditions the grant agency gives us right now."
Wynn laid out two possible mechanisms that may be able to provide the council with that information. One is a document trail on a journal transfer or mail order transfer that could be reported out to the council and the other is an unfunded line item that the council would then see on the year-to-date budget report and the budget conclusion that would reflect any expenditures in this grant.
Moon and Persip both expressed that this is not an attack on the Pittsfield Police Department or Wynn, but is a way to better inform Pittsfield residents and demonstrate transparency. They both said they look forward to continuing this conversation.

Tags: Pittsfield Police,   state grant,   

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Berkshires Gets Limited Vaccine Doses; Named 'High-Efficiency Collaborative'

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — COVID-19 vaccine shipments expected early last week were delayed because of inclement weather and were smaller than expected, leaving Berkshire County shorthanded. And a "very limited" amount of vaccines was available for appointment first-dose slots on Wednesday.  
"This week, Massachusetts received 139,000 doses," Mayor Linda Tyer said to the City Council on Tuesday. "That's it, we have a million potential new residents who are eligible, but for the week we received 139,000 doses."
Public Health Program Manager Laura Kittross said there is limited access everywhere and doesn't expect this to be an ongoing issue.  She hopes to see additional vaccine allocations later this week and is "certainly hopeful for next week."
On Thursday, there were very limited first-dose clinic at Berkshire Community College from 2 to 5 with 300 appointments available to eligible individuals. The North Adams and Great Barrington vaccination sites will also hold first-dose clinics on Thursday, offering 250 doses each. All of those were gone by late afternoon on Wednesday.
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