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Residents tell Pittsfield police advisory board they want officers to wear body cameras

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Police Advisory and Review Board held a virtual public meeting Wednesday just a few weeks after a 22-year-old city man, who was in the midst of a mental health crisis, was shot and killed by city police.

The meeting was an opportunity for the public to express their concerns and give input to the board.

Dana Rasso, who lives about five blocks from where Miguel Estrella was killed, proposed the board discuss divesting money from the police budget.

"Invest it in programs, in particular that address mental health crises that are separate from the police department and are not dispatched with police officers," Rasso said. 

Lt. Co. Thomas Brady of the Berkshire County Sheriff's Department, who is a new member of the board, explained that in Massachusetts when someone dials 911, which occurred the night Estrella was killed, "it requires a response" from public safety. "Whether that's police, fire or EMS," Brady said.

Many residents who spoke at the meeting asked when the police would start wearing body cameras.

Orrin Powell asked the board what kind of additional training police officers can get to handle mental health issues.

"Anytime you are called to any kind of scene, there’s some type of issue where people have lost control of some type — whether it be verbally, physically, whatever it may be," he said. 

Michael Hitchcock said the board is not representative of the community.

"Your board is somewhat inaccessible to the kind of people that are most affected by policing," he said.

Hitchcock suggested the board include Latinx people and those from low-income households.

Up until recently the police advisory board was down to three members. Just this month Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer appointed three new members, including Dennis Powell of the Berkshire NAACP.

The board's jobis to advise the city, including the police, about police matters, "provide an impartial and fair review of complaints" against the force, and "assist with the adoption and revision of rules and regulations" related to police work.

Police chief Michael Wynn attended the meeting, but he didn't discuss the investigation of the shooting of Miguel Estrella.

The state police are investigating and the office of Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington is reviewing the evidence.

"Typically, these types of investigations take four to six months to complete," Harrington said in a recent statement.

Board chair Ellen Maxon said the board would like to hold a meeting in-person outside of city hall, and devote it to listening to the public, but that would depend on COVID-19 rates. The listening session would be in addition to its regular meetings.

The next board meeting is scheduled for May 17.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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