PITTSFIELD, Mass. — It's only one month into the fiscal year so it's still not clear how cuts made to the city's police budget will play out.
Police Chief Michael Wynn told the Police Advisory and Review Board that it is still too soon to tell how the reduced budget will affect operations.
"It is up in the air we really just got a budget past," Wynn said. "Operationally we really are just getting our feet under us."
During the June budget hearings, the City Council cut $100,000 from the department's budget and earmarked another $85,000 for additional mental health clinicians
The $100,000 cut came from the overtime line item and Wynn said, with this being an odd year because of the pandemic, it is hard to project how things will end up.
"We don't know and we won't know until we get a quarter underneath us," he said. "This is a weird year and I have nothing to compare it to."
Events such as the Fourth of July Parade were canceled, which saves a good chunk of overtime, he said, but added that new needs are arising. The police chief specifically pointed to the homeless encampments that have sprung up in Springside Park and have required attention.
As for the added social workers, Wynn said it has been a challenge bringing them on board. He said the current arrangement is a partnership with the Brien Center and that the nonprofit has struggled to hire their own social workers.
"They can't find social workers ... we were directed to use the money but we don't know how to find social workers," the chief said. "The people we would ask can't find social workers so we aren't sure how this will play out."
There are conversations with the Brien Center about different kinds of agreements.
Wynn did say he planned to stay on the officer hiring plan.
"The budget is lower this year and we are nowhere near that anyways so we just keep plugging away," he said.
Wynn said the optimal number of officers is between 110 and 120. This would allow proper coverage at any time when 10 percent of the force is unavailable. Currently there are around 84 officers.
He did say four officers recently graduated the academy and started field training and more officers are cued up to enter the academy but that it is unclear when in-person training will begin.
"There are a lot of moving parts," Wynn said.
Before taking up the budget, the board reviewed its own purpose and effectiveness in the community.
"What are we doing as a board? I don't want to be on any board that is not effective that is not making a difference in this community," board member Sheila Sholes-Ross said. "If we can't define our role clearly with outcomes we hope to put in place ... and we can't be an asset for our community, I don't want to be part of it."
The conversation sprang from community meetings at which attendees advocated for the need of some sort of committee independent of the police.
Board member Drew Herzig said he was discouraged that people didn't know this entity already existed.
"I think we need to stress that we want the community to use us as a sounding board," he said. "We are there to be part of the conversation."
Wynn said he thought it was important to point out that there has been a lot of turnover on the board, the City Council, the administration, and in the local media. He said some people may not know about the board or have a true sense of what it does.
He added that he often has to remind people that when the board was recreated, it was given the most authority the state and city charter allowed. Legally, the board can only do so much and it is not something they can change locally, he noted.
The board members agreed that this was an important point they needed to be more vocal about but felt they still needed to reactivate lines of communication with different community groups.
"We need to step up and we need to get involved with this because we are that middle ground designed to help both groups hear each other better," Herzig said.
The board members agreed that they needed to be a stronger presence at various community meetings and report back what they hear to the full board.
They also saw a need to support the police chief at community meetings so people can get a better picture of their purpose.