|Pittsfield Council Subcommittee Supports Two New Positions|
|By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff |
11:54AM / Wednesday, September 21, 2022
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Ordinances and Rules Subcommittee on Monday approved the classification of social worker and emergency co-responder positions within the city.
The unanimous vote comes after an uptick in homelessness and mental health distress and the police killing of Miguel Estrella in March.
One social worker will work with the Health Department and the other with the Police Department. The social workers' pay will range from about $68,100 to $88,500 and the emergency co-responders' will be paid about $52,800 to $68,900.
Though he supported the positions, Ward 1 Councilor Kenneth Warren pointed out that some residents have called for alternatives to policing.
"In regards to the positions that the police department has come forward with, obviously I'm in favor of them and we all thought that we need to keep going forward as we're looking at other alternatives," he said.
"But I want to make it clear that I frankly think we're letting the public down when we keep dragging our feet and saying 'Yes, we're for this,' 'Yes for this,' 'Yes, we'll have a meeting,' 'Yes, we'll talk about this,' and then we don't do it."
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 Police Department.
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.
In August, Warren successfully petitioned to request $75,000 appropriated for the creation of alternative community emergency services.
The department has previously contracted with the Brien Center for co-responders but has not had one as a city employee.
"We don't have a corresponding position as employed by the city, we contract with [the Brien Center]," Capt. Gary Traversa said.
"That relationship has been super beneficial to us, however, there are some administrative challenges that we're not sure that we'll be able to continue contracting through [the Brien Center]. If that falls through, this position is to make sure that the function remains."
The department currently has one contracted co-responder and the department told the Personnel Review Board in August that it intends to hire two emergency co-responders to assist on crisis calls.
Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey said he thinks it makes sense to have the co-responders in-house, adding that he has asked if there were other community partners that the department could work with and was told there were not.
The co-responders will assess a 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.
They will also facilitate police training on intervening in a behavioral health crisis.
Councilor at Large Peter White pointed out that the social worker proposals are different than when they were first introduced in the budget and asked for clarification that there will be two positions created.
"And that will be so we can have somebody at the Police Department to support the co-responders and we can also have the person in the Health Department to handle everything that's going on in the city, not just police related, however, it can be a variety of issues from homelessness to mental health services?" he asked Human Resources Director Michael Taylor.
Taylor said that it is exactly the point.
"One thing that is noted in the job description for the social worker in the Health Department is it does talk about having satellite office locations like the Council on Aging and the Berkshire Athenaeum to address and help handle some of those situations you just you just mentioned," he added.
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.
Warren also gave an update on his two petitions related to adopting a body camera policy similar to the American Civil Liberties Union model to give an update on his progress.
"I'm not leaving that there just to gather dust," he said, adding that he is waiting to see what the city does with body cameras.
Police surveillance has been supported by the public, the City Council, and Police Chief Michael Wynn. Wynn has expressed concern about how to use them within the legal framework in the commonwealth and records retention.