WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The interim chief of police updated the Select Board on a policy review he has undertaken this year.
Mike Ziemba told the board Monday July 12, that he has compared Williamstown's policies against 170 policies from the town of Great Barrington, where the department is accredited by the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission.
Ziemba said it is the WPD's goal to achieve that same level of accreditation, a long-term process the department has just undertaken.
He highlighted a couple of policies that have been updated, including one where changes were necessitated by the commonwealth's recent police reform bill.
The WPD's new use of force policy, among other things, spells out a prohibition on the use of choke holds, Ziemba said.
"Choke holds are strictly prohibited by statute and not trained by this department," Ziemba said.
He also provided some detail on his department's policy on de-escalation techniques, which include using techniques like verbal persuasion warnings and calling in mental health consultants.
Ziemba said that and Williamstown Police officer who observes another officer using unreasonable force is required to intervene unless doing so creates a threat of harm and is required to report the unreasonable force to a superior officer.
Ziemba was asked by a resident at Monday's meeting whether the Williamstown Police Department has been accredited before.
"It's few and far between, the agencies that are," Ziemba said. "It's a fairly new process, new in the last 10 years. It's very prestigious to be vetted by other agencies and other professionals.
"We're moving in that direction for transparency's sake, openness' sake and to have others come in and review our department."
According to the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission's website, Great Barrington is the only agency in Berkshire County currently accredited by the agency, which accredits both municipal police forces and college and university security services.
As it has been for the last year, policing was a major topic of Monday's Select Board meeting.
It began with a conversation among board members following up on a question raised by a resident at the June 28 meeting, where the board was queried about the presence of a WPD officer on the Berkshire District Attorney's Brady List.
Select Board Chair Andrew Hogeland told his colleagues he had requested a meeting with District Attorney Andrea Harrington to talk about the procedures around the list, its implications for the town and what appeal process is open to law enforcement officers on the list.
Hogeland said he planned to go to Pittsfield along with fellow board member Jeffrey Johnson to sit down with Harrington, but he learned that Wade Hasty, who was elected along with Johnson in May, was seeking a meeting with the DA as well.
Since three members of the Select Board cannot attend a meeting without violating the Open Meeting Law, Hogeland asked the board if it could decide which two members should attend.
Jane Patton suggested instead that the board invite Harrington to speak with all five of its members.
"Let's just let folks hear it from the horse's mouth," Patton said. "We may interpret it differently, not intentionally. Then we could press her for clarity and, if we need to, go some layers deeper.
"It seems to me she would welcome the opportunity to help clear this up."
Hogeland said he would ask Harrington if she is willing to meet with the entire board in open session, but he asked Hasty and Johnson to work out between one another who would be the second member to travel to Pittsfield if that is the option the district attorney prefers.
Concurrent with Ziemba's review of WPD policies, the town is undertaking an overhaul of the policies governing all town employees after a human resources review ordered by the Select Board last year.
Hogeland Monday repeated that the board is soliciting public comment on the audit conducted by its consultant and the draft policies that have been written. The 91-page audit report is available on the town's website.
Another long-term town project, one that predates the pandemic, is nearing the home stretch.
On Monday, Stephanie Boyd of the town's Carbon Dioxide Lowering Committee told the Select Board that on Tuesday, July 20, the COOL Committee will host a forum to present the plan to replace the town's streetlights with more energy efficient LED fixtures.
"Originally, this project started because the fire district and National Grid were ready to move forward with a light that many people in town felt was too white," Boyd said. "We now feel we have a very warm light we're proposing."
At June's annual town meeting, voters opted to move forward with a plan to have the town take over operation of the streetlights from the fire district with the intention of installing the LED fixtures.
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