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North Adams Police Union Details Deficiencies, Health Risks in Police Station
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
01:01AM / Friday, February 05, 2021
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One of the out-of-order signs in the North Adams lockup. The police union says the police station is outdated, unhealthy and falling apart.

A tangle of wires in one of the offices.

Water from the tap.

The single bathroom.



The original windows in the 1955 building are sealed around the edges with duct tape to keep out the drafts. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A decade ago, former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown held his hand over a duct-taped original 1955 window in the police station to feel the cold draft coming through. 
 
Brown's long gone but the tape is still on that window. 
 
So are the water-stained ceilings, cramped quarters, missing and crumbling tiles, one frightening bathroom, broken cells, mildewed carpets and outdated heating system. 
 
The deficiencies of the 66-year-old public safety building are well documented. Tours of the building over the years by the public safety commissioner and later the police and fire chiefs have pointed out the urgent need for a new building. 
 
What's been lacking is funding and location. But officers are getting tired of waiting.
 
In a letter to iBerkshires last month, the local police union, Massachusetts Coalition of Police (MCOP) Local 382, offered a litany of problems with the deteriorating structure that they say is hampering their ability work and serve the public. 
 
"Given the track record and documented articles continuing from 2012 and much earlier, through 2019, officers are losing faith in the idea of hearing a solution, all while still working in an outdated and extremely hazardous environment that has only continued worsening. Regardless of the complete lack of adequate resources, equipment and space provided to public safety staff, we have continued to strive to provide the highest level of service we can," the letter states. 
 
Images provided by the union show the poor condition of the building and inadequate environment officers are working in. The public safety building was built for the Fire Department, facing Ashland Street, and the Police Department, facing Summer Street and one level up. 
 
The structure is also under a U.S. Department of Justice order dating back to a 2010 audit of the city's compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act that rose from a complaint about the police station. The city spent more than $1.2 million making upgrades but little of that went to the public safety building, which city officials have expected to completely replace. 
 
There is a distinct lack of handicapped access: The entrance to the building is up a set of stairs to small entry and then up another set of stairs to the lobby. 
 
"Our service to the public will always be our first priority," said the union. "Therefore, we believe the most important issue facing the North Adams Police Department is a complete lack of handicap access to our building. On numerous occasions, officers have had to take reports from citizens with disabilities in the parking lot of the Steeple City Plaza. We have also had several handicap citizens suffer falls while attempting to navigate our stairways."
 
Officers say they had to carry one citizen in a wheelchair to access the police station, which they believed was degrading to the individual. And any citizens with police business are consigned to the small lobby or hallway through which "combative and disruptive arrestees" are also taken. And domestic violence suspects are walked right past their victims. 
 
"This is unacceptable and traumatic to the people involved and we owe it to the public to do better," the union says. "Officers must walk, and sometimes physically fight, a combative prisoner up three sets of stairs and through two thresholds containing glass doorways in order to bring them to a booking area that also serves as a common area, report writing space, and even a meal room as we do not have an actual break area or kitchenette."
 
Cells don't meet current standards, several are broken, there is no running water in them and the room has no heat or air conditioning. Prisoners often overflow the toilets causing water issues and mold in the garage area below and making it "filthy and hazardous" for officers who have to enter through the garage. There's worries over crumbling asbestos tiles and black mold. 
 
There's no space to have private conversations or secure environment; most rooms are multifunctional with desks, lockers, and computers. A coffeepot and microwave in a closet serves as a break area. There could be disruptive arrestees and hazardous materials, such as fentanyl, all within this area. 
 
There are now four women working in the department but their locker room has had to be used for equipment storage and access to the interview rooms' recording equipment is through the locker room. It also houses the emergency 911 phone terminals and equipment and officers changing for duty have been walked in on by those maintaining the equipment. "The Police Union, with the support and direction from Chief [Jason] Wood, installed a keypad lock on this door to give our female officers a small amount of privacy," the letter states. 
 
There is one functioning toilet for 20 men and women officers and no showers. Both locker rooms are outdated, dirty and mildewed. There are no laundry facilities. 
 
"COVID-19 precautions are also unable to be met due to the fact that the Police Department does not have hot water for officers to wash their hands anywhere in the building," the letter states. 
 
From early December through the beginning of January, there was no heat in the the basement because the radiant heating tubes in the floor rotted away. 
 
Union representatives did not want speak on record, saying the letter and accompanying images expressed their concerns. They indicated they had spoken with Mayor Thomas Bernard and looked at a possible location for the department. 
 
Bernard confirmed that a potential site, which he declined to identify, had been looked at and was "still on the table." But, he said, there's a cost to it and it doesn't solve the problem of the fire station. The heating issue was addressed and repaired, he said. 
 
"I appreciate their frustration, and I share their frustration," the mayor said. "We've made efforts to address chronic issues and try and clean the place up a little bit."
 
There are major infrastructure problems the city is trying to address, of which the public safety building is a priority, Bernard said. But the city has been hesitant to put more money into the current structure and had to argue for a state waiver to put a roof on it last year.
 
"It's part of a comprehensive challenge that we're facing. We have a lot of long-standing deferred maintenance issues in the city," he said. "The bill, whether whether literally or operationally, is coming due on a lot of them."
 
The public safety building will be at the top of the list when the officials begin preparing a capital budget this year. With the new Biden administration and Congress talking about infrastructure spending, Bernard is hoping there will be potential for future funding if the city has a shovel-ready project in hand. 
 
"I have a monthly meeting with my public safety team, and I have indicated to the union that I would like to include them in at least part of that monthly meeting to talk about building issues," the mayor said. "One of the big things is siting, the other big thing is current issues and conditions."
 
The North Adams union, after seeing their colleagues in Williamstown move into a new station in 2019, are tired of working in a structure that's been failing for more than 20 years. 
 
"We wish to have a real world solution be communicated to us, so that the proverbial can is not kicked farther down the road and police personnel don't have to wonder how long they'll continue to work in perhaps the most hazardous public safety facility in Massachusetts."
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