It’s that time again–Greenfield city council meets this Wednesday, July 20, at 6:30pm, in person at Jon Zon and online over Zoom. Agenda here, zoom link here.
On the docket is the mayor’s request for $175k for an audit of the Greenfield Police Department. UPDATE 7/19: Ways & Means voted to table the mayor’s audit proposal until August. (Albany spent $78k on their audit, so $175k is probably more than the council will approve.) Councilor Bullock proposes to modify the mayor’s proposal, instead creating a volunteer, civilian task force to conduct a review of public safety in Greenfield, with a professional consultant working under the supervision of the community task force rather than the mayor. This item will be the subject of public hearing.
Because the audit has been tabled until August, we can use public comment this Wednesday to voice our concerns and hopefully influence whatever final proposal Councilor Bullock brings forward.
Public Safety Task Forces
There have been many public safety task forces, especially since the uprisings following the murder of George Floyd. We highly recommend reading the report from Interrupting Criminalization on Navigating Public Safety Task Forces. Long story short: it’s very hard to get real transformative solutions out of this kind of process, and they can have unexpected outcomes and risks of police retaliation against community members who take part. This is especially true when police and their political allies are able to commandeer or obstruct the process.
Abolitionist organizers who have navigated these task forces in the past recommend skipping straight to transformative solutions that you already know you want–such as community-based, non-police programs that build real safety–rather than getting bogged down in a long, messy process. From our discussions, though, we’re not sure folks in Greenfield are ready to support those types of changes without a sustained public conversation, and maybe a task force can provide a venue for that. Maybe we can steer this process to convince more of the public by highlighting the failures of policing and focusing on proven solutions, such as harm reduction. How do we do that? Well…
Please consider volunteering for the task force.
There’s a good chance a task force like Councilor Bullock’s proposal will be approved. If a task force is going to succeed, it’s going to need good people steering it. In Councilor Bullock’s proposal, there will be positions for one person from each precinct plus positions reserved for people with lived experience with the criminal legal system, plus a range of people in specific professions. Please reach out if you’d like us to keep you in the loop about volunteering, and reach out to friends and neighbors who you think are good candidates.
OUR DEMANDS FOR A TASK FORCE
If we’re going to have a public safety task force, here are a few things that would make it more likely to succeed:
- The task force has to consider not just what the police do, but what they shouldn’t do, and who else could do a better job meeting community needs. The task force has to be about more than just police procedures and policies–it has to be about acknowledging our needs and building our community capacity to meet those needs. (That’s why the mayor’s audit is not enough to address the community’s concerns.)
- No cops and no public safety commission members on the task force. If the task force does any community listening sessions, we must make every effort to protect people from retaliation. That is not possible if the police are involved.
- Task force members should be appointed by City Council, not the Mayor.
- Appointed members should have a demonstrated interest in studying evidence and making evidence-based recommendations. Unfortunately, most policies around public safety ignore all evidence and are justified only with fear-mongering and propaganda.
- Offer stipends to task force members. If we want a more diverse task force, we have to address barriers to participation–and that means offering to defray expenses like childcare during meetings.
- The task force should have subpoena power to get the information they need, and they should investigate and document all institutional obstacles to getting effective civilian control over our police force and accountability for wrong-doing.
- Along with any task force, Greenfield should commission feasibility studies for “best practice” programs that we already know we would benefit from, such as civilian mobile crisis response (a la CAHOOTS) and housing first (low-barrier permanent housing for people in need of shelter, with optional supportive services). It takes time to build new programs, so let’s not kick these cans down the road any longer.
- The Mayor must commit to following the recommendations of the task force.
If you agree, please reach out to your councilors and the mayor to make these demands, and join us at Wednesday’s meeting to push for a process we can maybe, hopefully, be proud of, after a lot of hard work and muddling through.
- Navigating Public Safety Task Forces by Interrupting Criminalization
There have been many similar task forces in our region:
- Burlington, VT: see the official reports from their review processes and a recent update on their process (VT Digger)
- Brattleboro, VT community safety review
- Northampton: policing review commission final report and a story on their process