PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Police Advisory and Review Board will be reviewing its ordinance language to make changes that support its mission as about half its members will be gone by February.
Two members have resigned this year, leaving the board with nine current members. Of those, three —the Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross, the Rev. Sloan Letman and Ivan Victoriano — have all decided not to seek re-appointment when their terms end in February 2022.
On Tuesday, Chairwoman Ellen Maxon advised members to think about what has worked and what hasn't over the past 2 1/2 years of the board's existence. Those recommendations will be brought to the next meeting in September so they can review language in the city code.
The current duties and powers of the board include studying policies, practices, and procedures to provide a forum for the public to discuss them, receiving complaints from the public and relaying them to the chief of police, and reviewing final investigative reports regarding citizens' complaints to make policy recommendations.
The review board feels a degree of frustration with the legal constraints that prohibits it from more direct involvement in the oversight of the Police Department. There was debate at the time the board was modified to its current form to give it a more robust role in investigating and reviewing police operations.
"I think I have sensed that we've had as a group a general feeling of frustration, regarding our role, frustration, confusion. I'm wondering why so many of us have decided not to rejoin for our second term," Vice Chairman Michael Feldberg said.
"I was wondering why, if this sense of frustration is that somehow, maybe it might have been my expectation that we would have a more direct role in the process of reviewing."
Member Drew Herzig said that the amount of turnover within the board is "definitely a concern."
Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn also reported that there may be more hurdles to jump through with reviewing reports because they have to go through the Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) commission.
"I don't think it's necessarily going to get less," he said in regard to the board's engagement. "I just think that it's going to get a little more convoluted, you're certainly going to keep the authority you have, but police reform, you can't change that."
Wynn said that he respects and appreciates the board's frustration if they joined thinking they would be playing more of an active role.
Because the entire ordinance will be reviewed by the board for revision, members decided to hold off on voting for two petitions submitted by member Drew Herzig that request changes to the city code.
Herzig noted that the words "accept," "approve," or "adopt" are not in the powers and duties description and he feels current language ("study" and "review") hampers the board's ability to take any official position and/or action regarding various reports, findings, procedures, and protocols brought to attention by the chief of police or generated in the discussion.
He asked that the City Council provide board-specific language that defines the authority that the council wishes to invest in the board. In addition, he asked that the panel's name is changed to the City of Pittsfield Police Advisory and Review Board.
At this meeting, the board also approved its annual report for 2020, which will be sent to Mayor Linda Tyer and the City Council.
"Due to the restrictions imposed by COVID-19, the Board met only seven times during calendar year 2020," The report reads. "After the first year of its experience, the Board sought to take a more proactive approach to shaping PPD policy by providing input into the policy formulation and adoption process rather than receiving policy after it was completely formulated."
In 2020, board's actions included reviewing seven citizen complaints presented by Wynn, worked with Wynn to develop a policy regarding officer interactions with transgender persons, and had Maxon appear on Wynn's radio program.
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