Pittsfield Council Requests 75k for Policing Alternatives

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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Resident Tonya Frazier expresses her disappoint that the council has to be constantly pressured to take action. 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Just days after District Attorney Andrea Harrington's investigation found the police killing of Miguel Estrella within legal bounds, the City Council has asked for policing alternatives. 

A petition from Ward 1 Councilor Kenneth Warren requesting $75,000 appropriated for the creation of alternative community emergency services was referred to Mayor Linda Tyer.

"Daniel Gillis was our wake-up call," he said.

"Unfortunately, our city essentially did not. Miguel Estrella was the result of the community collectively hitting the snooze button. We need to answer the alarm or it's going to keep going on."

On March 25, the 22-year-old was fatally shot by Officer Nicholas Sondrini after police responded to his home twice for reported mental distress and self-harming.

A preliminary investigation by the Pittsfield Police Department that was released in late April determined that he did not meet the criteria of a "person in crisis." Harrington's findings contained reports of Estrella being suicidal and cutting himself and she said he did not receive the mental health services that he needed.

Warren had referenced the police killing of 36-year-old Daniel Gillis in 2017 after a call was made for a domestic incident.  The officer was also cleared of criminal charges in this case.

The requested money would fund consultant work to establish the alternate responders. The Ward 1 councilor would like to see the city have a meeting with a representative from Amherst, which recently implemented a community responders program.

He said the $75,000 is an "arbitrary number" and if the money is not spent it will go back into the general fund.

Since Estrella's death, the community has called for alternatives to policing for people in crisis.

During open microphone, West Side resident Tonya Frazier took the council to task for its lack of action.

"I took a break from coming to these meetings to see what was going to be done by you, our city councilors, to make the changes to our community that we need after the promises that were made to us," she said. "But sadly when we don't show up and keep pressing you to forward with these changes, that stops.

"Why is it this way? Why do we have to keep making noises and making you feel uncomfortable for anything to be done? What happened to the petition to call on state and federal delegation to assist with finding resources for mental health? What happened to the body cams? What happened to looking into the less lethal options that the police have and how the BolaWraps are not useful at all? We were also looking into the taser success rate.

"This only mattered for about two months when there were community members up here crying out for help. Nothing changed for the community. We are still crying out for help."

The resident argued that the city has moved on to arguing about nip bottles, the roundabout on Tyler Street, Bird scooters, and the structure of North Street while people are dying because of a lack of mental health resources.

Frazier also spoke about Estrella's mental state on the day that he was killed. She said anyone familiar with Estrella who watched the surveillance footage knew that he was not himself that night and was "screaming out for help."

"He was the change he wanted to see in our community but none of that mattered while he was having a manic episode," she said.  

"Instead he was met with deadly force."

NAACP member Kamaar Taliaferro spoke in support of the appropriation and said equitable approaches to public safety (EAPS) are resources that the state has made available for about three or four years.

The council unanimously supported the petition but President Peter Marchetti supported it with the condition that City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta is consulted to confirm the legality of the appropriation.

Ward 1 Councilor Kenneth Warren is asking to appropriate $75,000 for the creation of alternative community emergency services. 

Warren believes that Chapter 44 Section 33 of the statute allows the council to ask for monies for an item that was not budgeted and if the mayor does not respond within seven days, the council has the right to appropriate the funds in a two-thirds vote.

"I'll do some research on this but my understanding of the statute that Councilor Warren is referring to is that provision is related directly to the annual budget process. During the budget process, it is correct that if an item is not funded and not taken care of under the statute, the City Council can vote for it," Pagnotta said.

"We're beyond the budget process and I don't think that that statute is intended to allow the City Council on a monthly basis to issue orders appropriating funding but I would be glad to take a look at it and render a formal opinion on it."

Warren argued that the state doesn't say it has to be done in the budget process but has to refer to an item that hasn't been budgeted.

"I don't think this is an issue that we've device on," Marchetti said. "And so how we can unite to solve the problem is the direction that we need to go."

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Pittsfield In-Person Tree Lighting Ceremony Returns After 2-Year Hiatus

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

The Laviolette family donated the tree and turned on the lights on Friday.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Hundreds gathered at Park Square on Friday for the city's first in-person tree lighting ceremony in three years.

The 25-foot tall white spruce is adorned by 20,000 lights, illuminating the area and spreading holiday cheer.

"There are so many kids and families here this evening and I know everyone is anxious to see the beautiful tree that was donated by the Laviolette family," Mayor Linda Tyer said right before the switch was flipped.

"Thank you for your generosity. This tree will provide a whole month of beauty and festivity for all of us to enjoy and I love coming to the tree lighting because when you look all around Park Square, you can see just how beautiful our city is at this time of year."

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