A detailed report documenting a top-to-bottom investigation of a police department in the Berkshires has been made public, and the town is now in the beginning stages of taking the report’s recommendations.
A full investigation of the Egremont Police Department was ordered by the town’s select board in early March, after seven of the small town’s unionized police officers came forward in February describing among many issues a “hostile work environment” with Police Chief Reena Bucknell.
Bucknell was placed on paid leave, and Pomeroy Resources, of Plymouth, was hired to conduct the review.
Charles Flynn, vice-chair of the Egremont selectboard, said that after reading the final report, he believes the town government took the right course of action.
"It confirms what we did back in February. I think we did the right to suspend the chief at that time with pay pending an investigation," said Flynn. "Now we need to take the next step."
The 41-page report on the police stations operation and management made 20 recommendations addressing concerns throughout the department.
Chief Bucknell’s behavior at the department was noted. Although the consultants could not prove officers had experienced a “hostile work environment” by legal definition, the report noted Bucknell’s micro-management of the staff. In interviews, officers told consultants that the chief had prevented officers from communicating with other town employees, kept close tabs on patrol miles, work hours, and prevented staff from using devices including calculators and a copy machine.
The police force has experienced a high-turnover rate of personnel as well. Since Bucknell became chief in 1998, about 60 officers have come and gone. The report also found that many of the town’s officers had been inadequately trained at the basic level.
Kevin Moran, Managing Editor at the Berkshire Eagle, which posted the report online for public viewing, said that in communicating with acting Officer-in-Charge Jeremy Pilone, the department is already taking steps to resolve many of the issues outlined in the report…
"Obviously they've got some work to take care of, they've got some training issues right now that they told us over the weekend they are taking care of," said Moran.
But issues beyond workplace training and staff relations were also found. It was found that a second-floor stock room had been filled with unused equipment, including thousands of rounds of ammunition, police uniforms and patches, electronics including unused computers and cameras. Police evidence was also found to be mixed with police equipment.
Investigators also discovered a 200-person Hot List, containing the names of town residents. A memo was posted stating in part “Many of these individuals warrant an increase in attention, as well as an awareness of their presence in this town.”
Charles Flynn was shocked to learn of the existence of the Hot List.
"This is the United States of America. I didn't think we had hot lists in America," said Flynn.
Kevin Moran said that other members of the select board informed the Berkshire Eagle that a search for a new interim police chief would be underway shortly.
Law enforcement in other Berkshire County communities have been supportive of Chief Bucknell. She received praise from her secretary as well as by staff at the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office, and several surrounding towns.
Moran said the paper has been unable to contact Chief Bucknell. WAMC has also left unanswered messages.
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