Pittsfield Personnel Review Board Approves New Positions

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Personnel Review Board on Wednesday voted to create emergency co-responders in the Police Department and two social worker positions: one in the police department and one in the Health Department.

This comes in the wake of increased homelessness and mental health distress and the police killing of Miguel Estrella in March.

There has been a call for greater mental health services since Estrella's death, with some community members arguing that alternatives to policing are needed and the co-responder should be separate from the PPD.

The fiscal 2023 budget included a $75,000 allocation for a social worker in the Health Department and a recommendation that the Police Department allocate $250,000 in grant money for the co-responders, which was honored.

The Police Department expects to hire two co-responders to arrive on the scene for calls involving behavioral health disturbances alongside officers, acting as the primary liaison.

They will assess the person to determine appropriate dispositions for services, arrests, diversion from arrests, diversion from unnecessary emergency department visits, or a combination of criminal justice and behavioral health treatment. The co-responders will also facilitate police training on intervening in a behavioral health crisis.

The positions have Grade 13 salaries.  

"We've had a couple of co- responders here in the department, but they've been through the Brien Center and because that's an outside agency and not within the city's area, we're kind of beholden to whatever admin issues and other things come up with their schedule with the Brien Center," Lt. Matthew Hill explained.

"These would be independent, corresponding positions here. They would be in the city of Pittsfield's control where we would be able to deal with administrative issues, scheduling. It would give us more freedom than we currently have with the system with the Brien Center."

There were some questions about the responders' schedules and if they would be available full time.

The general consensus is that they will have flexible schedules.

"What we're looking to have is actually just steady coverage. These mental health issues, they're not something we can predict as we can with other crimes and certain things happening," Hill said.

"So, what we would want to have is coverage as much as possible and I mean, we'll have to look at how the staffing works out to cover it but certainly with the previous model we had in place with the Brien Center, we tried to have coverage throughout the day shift and evening shift."

Director of Human Resources Michael Taylor explained that one of the reasons the city wants to create these positions and classify them as city jobs is because the Brien Center cannot support the program anymore.

"I don't believe there will be a continued relationship once these positions are created at our end," Taylor added.

"Additionally, I know that there will in fact be a component of this where the emergency call responders are on call but if I had understood from the conversations that I've been involved in, there will be co-responders that are hired and placed on the specific shifts that the Police Department has — ideally, right, if we can hire that many — but there will still certainly be a component where they are working on call to maintain that flexibility."

Lt. Jeffrey Bradford said the co-responders also build relationships within the Police Department when not on calls.

"They are here at the station, they're interacting with the officers and developing relationships and trust. Believe it or not, a lot of times they're helping us with some of the struggles that we have with the stress of the job," he said.

"So that interaction is key. If we only see them on a call, we don't we miss that opportunity. It's during the downtime that we have that we're able to build those relationships, and I think all of us here would say that we've benefited personally, our mental health and our stress have benefited personally from interacting with them here at the station."

The social worker positions in the Police Department and the Health Department have similar duties and are in the M6 salary range.

The police social worker manages and develops programs for the case management and behavioral health needs of residents and advises the department on law enforcement interventions with the mental health community.

The position works with the Health Department social worker and other city departments will supervise the mental health co-responder team, and supervise the department's peer support team.

Hill and Bradford said this position would benefit the management of the co-responder program.

The Health Department's social worker manages and develops programs for case management and behavioral health needs of residents. working collaboratively with multiple departments including the police's co-responder program.

"It's no secret that we've had a pretty hectic three years now and we're starting to see, I'm starting to see the effects of that in our public," Director of Public Health Andy Cambi said.

"We're starting to see more issues at the public library, we're starting to see issues on the street and by the YMCA, so there's a lot of mental health issues going on within the city and while they do deserve the public safety response, I feel like we also need to be involved as far as the Public Health Department."

Board member Kelly Reagan asked why the positions were put in separate departments. Cambi said that is a vision he had for the department to provide more services to the residents and that he wants to be proactive and have more experience on the topic.

"I just wanted to make a comment on these last four positions that we just looked at, two grant-funded positions, and maybe there are some folks here in this meeting that had a lot to do with securing those grants, or maybe there are people outside of this meeting," Reagan concluded.  

"That can't be stressed enough. That the city has an extremely limited budget and so hats off to those people who were involved in identifying these grants and securing these grants for the city. It's extremely vital to the city."

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Purgatory Road Returns, Funds Bring Kevin Hines to Dalton

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

DALTON, Mass. — "Purgatory Road," a long-standing spooky event that raises money for suicide prevention, is back this year.

Attendees will be taken through a "cursed haunted mansion" themed trail in the woods behind the Dalton CRA. The event will run on Oct. 14, 15, and 21 from 7 to 10 p.m. and all proceeds support the Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention.

The fundraiser was started by Joann Farrell and Betsy Nichols 11 years ago and has raised about $200,000 since. It usually draws about 300 people per night.

This year, the effort has brought a globally known activist to Dalton.

"We did it for eight years and we were going to stop but with COVID, we decided that we needed to restart our efforts," Nichols explained.

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