After essentially running the Pittsfield, Massachusetts police department for a decade, Michael Wynn has been officially appointed chief.
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer says if it was up to résumé alone, Michael Wynn would have been appointed police chief long ago.
“Chief Wynn is an exemplary professional in leading the agency not only from the intervention, prevention and crime-solving perspective but also from the leadership and command perspective that is required to ensure that police officers from patrolman right up through to the command staff know that the chief of police understands their work, respects how hard they work to protect the city and also will make the hard decisions when that is necessary as well,” Tyer says.
On the force since 1995, Wynn is president of the Berkshire County Law Enforcement Council, and is a member of the Western Massachusetts Regional Homeland Security Advisory Committee. He is a graduate of Taconic High School and Williams College, and attended the U.S. Naval Academy.
In 2007, Wynn was promoted to administrative captain by then-Mayor James Ruberto to manage the department. Wynn has been acting chief since 2009. Then-Mayor Dan Bianchi also wanted to work around the civil service process in 2012 by keeping Wynn in an acting role.
“When I took office, I felt very strongly that appointing a chief of police was important to stabilizing the law enforcement agency for the city of Pittsfield so we began a process to make that happen,” Tyer says.
Senator Adam Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat, says there is frequent discussion on Beacon Hill about whether it’s a good idea for municipalities to ditch civil service exams.
“They’re only offered a few time a year, and then there can be, you know, a long delay – a costly and time consuming process. [Municipalities] can do the work that they need to hire the people they need and go about their business and not be constrained these state laws,” Hinds says.
In one of her first moves in her four-year term, Tyer appealed to the state to appoint Wynn to the role using his 2009 test scores, but failed.
In September, Wynn retested and topped the list.
“It’s not just the civil service process, but civil service certainly doesn’t help,” Wynn says. “It’s a complicated, lengthy system. When we are using the system, we’re under pressure for a lot of deadlines, because although we are subject to civil service regulation the academies and the other people we rely on to get people through the process – we could go through a complete civil service process and not have academy openings because they are not coordinated, so that’s lost time.”
The Pittsfield Police Department is budgeted to have 99 total officers, but even with 20 new hires this year, it has just 87 on the force. Six more are expected to enter the academy in February. Tyer campaigned on increasing the size and public presence of the force and has kept up calls for improved public safety as mayor.
As for the challenges the department faces, the opioid epidemic is the major focus.
“Gangs, guns and drugs,” Wynn says. “And we kind of look at them as one integrated challenge, domestic violence recidivism and operating under the influence. Those three large catchment areas account for a large percentage of our call volume and our work.”
That’s contrary to a city analysis released in August that found crime is down.
“The Uniform Crime Report is based just on the data we provide to them. It doesn’t take into consideration poverty levels, socio-economic changes, other demographic drivers,” Wynn says. “Yes, we have seen an uptick in violent crime but saying we are No. 9 in the commonwealth without adjusting for other factors is a little misleading.”
Wynn says the police department is in need of upgrades.
“Move the department into a more contemporary headquarters location because this building saddles us with some serious limitations,” Wynn says. “And we got some plans coming up in the near future for some professional development opportunities for some of our personnel. As long as we are dealing with the staffing numbers that we are dealing with, we need to make sure that our people are the best prepared and best equipped that they can be if they are expected to do more.”
The City Council is expected to green-light Wynn to head the department Tuesday night. Wynn is already paid $115,000 at the level of police chief.