Co-responder FAQ

Definition: “Co-responders” are social workers who accompany police responding to emergency calls, also called “police-embedded clinicians.” These programs have existed for decades, but law enforcement agencies are increasingly promoting co-response in the face of widespread criticism of police. The Greenfield People’s Budget, like many community organizers and mental health professionals across the nation, are opposed to the co-response model.

The Wildflower Alliance recently shared these “Top 10 Reasons to Just Say No to Co-Responder models.”

Q: A co-responder seems like a good, incremental step towards a better system for dealing with emergencies. Why are you opposed to incremental change?

A: At the surface level, Co-responders can seem like an improvement, but they are not an incremental change towards some other system that offers better mental health care. By keeping police involved in mental health calls, these models in fact represent a significant expansion of policing. Co-responder models serve to legitimize police being involved in more and more non-violent life situations. Police also retain ultimate authority over how the team responds to a call, despite their frequent claims of following the lead of the co-responder. Recall that co-responders are generally one clinician surrounded by police and police culture, responding to calls at the discretion of the police. A single clinician cannot take on the entrenched, punishment-focused culture of police officers and their unions, and no clinician that tried would get the job or be able to keep it.

Co-responder programs have been around for decades, and despite claims by police they are not new or innovative. Because co-responder models have such a long track record, we have plenty of evidence showing the harms of such programs. The mere presence of police causes a range of practical and ethical dilemmas for care providers. Adding social workers to police response does not guarantee compassionate care, increase community trust, or rule out coercive outcomes. Instead, it pulls social work further away from care and more towards policing and punishment. This is why many social workers and even law enforcement professionals are opposed to co-response models, yet many police and politicians promote these programs to advance their own interests.

Furthermore, experience has shown that co-responder programs are not an incremental change: Proponents of co-responder programs do not outline any concrete path from co-response to non-police response. For them, police-based response is the goal, not a step towards something else. In practice, co-responder programs have become a key tool for preventing non-police programs from becoming established. Because police generally retain control over emergency dispatch even when non-police programs are created, police have steered calls away from non-police programs and towards co-responder programs, in order to undermine non-police programs they see as politically threatening. Public officials have also offered generous on-going funding for co-responder programs while consistently underfunding non-police programs, setting them up to fail.

Q: Aren’t police important for keeping civilian responders safe?

A: Police assume by default that most situations are dangerous. Police training emphasizes the idea that they can be ambushed or attacked at any time. Much of the reason they assume people in personal crisis are dangerous is that police regularly witness these situations escalate into violent struggles, but police themselves are a primary source of escalation and violence. Cops’ reputation precedes them, and officers shouting, acting aggressively, and threatening an agitated person with their weapons is a proven strategy to make a difficult situation spiral out of control.

Police counter that they have special training in mental health de-escalation, usually Crisis Intervention Teams training. CIT training has changed officers’ attitudes and their assessment of their own skill in handling calls, but there’s zero evidence it has improved outcomes: CIT training does not reduce arrests, use of force, or citizen injuries. Officers proficient in CIT, some of them even CIT trainers, have killed people in mental distress. This is why, following the federal CDC, CIT trainers themselves are opposed to co-response:

“The presence of law enforcement at a mental health crisis event implicitly defines the situation as a potentially dangerous and criminal matter. This can become real in its consequences, as the mere presence of police can escalate the person in crisis, particularly if they have a history of trauma.

“It is important to note that most people experiencing a mental health crisis are not violent nor are they engaged in criminal behavior. They report that having police involved is stigmatizing and increases trauma at a time when they feel extremely frightened and vulnerable. Furthermore, the negative impact of police involvement is disproportionately experienced in communities of color, who are demanding alternatives to law enforcement response. Simply putting a clinician in a police car does not address these concerns.”

CIT International, “Why doesn’t CIT International promote the embedded co-responder model?”

Non-police crisis response units are able to respond to crisis calls with much less risk of escalation. The well-known CAHOOTS program, in Eugene, Oregon, has responded to hundreds of thousands of calls over more than 30 years with very few injuries to responders or the people they’re helping. They only very rarely call the police, either. As their director said, “It’s our experience that folks in crisis just aren’t dangerous.”

Q: Should we just send a social worker team to mental health calls?

A: The best response to a mental health emergency is peer support workers and medics, not licensed clinicians. Peer counselors combine lived experience and expert training to help people in crisis get the care they need in a manner they can trust, rejecting coercive and punitive approaches (such as involuntary hospitalization) in favor of therapeutic peer support practices. However, peer support workers cannot effectively offer consensual, person-centered care in bureaucratic agencies (like CSO or ServiceNet) that collaborate closely with law enforcement, rely heavily on coercive interventions, treat their own employees terribly, and consistently prioritize profit and legal liability over patients’ well-being. Coercive care is policing by another name with similar devastating results for many clients. Unfortunately, these large institutional care providers are dominant in the existing mental/behavioral health care system.

We cannot provide appropriate care to people in crisis if we limit ourselves to a false choice between police-based interventions or profit-based interventions. 

Q: Isn’t it good that the police are involving a “community organization” in their work?

It is not helpful to call a bureaucratic, profit-oriented health agency a “community organization.” Just because they have 501(c)3 tax status does not mean they are directed by community values rather than acquiring lucrative state contracts.

Employees at CSO (and ServiceNet, and others) have been outspoken about demeaning working conditions and pay, lack of support for staff, and the poor quality of care they are able to provide as a result. Clients of these agencies also regularly complain about their treatment by the agencies, not least because the providers regularly call on police and lean heavily on coercive interventions such as involuntary hospitalization and forced psychiatric medication.

Non-profit executives, police, and politicians all play the same language games, slapping trendy labels like “trauma-informed” and “peer-based” on the same old institutional, coercive, profit-driven models of care. Referring to social service agencies as “community organizations” is a deception designed to distract from the fact that these agencies’ only real customer is the state. The product they offer: providing “care” in the cheapest possible way with no regard for the human costs.

Q: What about domestic violence? These calls are dangerous for responders and police are helpful in these situations.

A: If survivors choose to call the police as their strategy to be safe, we honor that choice. We must also acknowledge that most victims of abuse never call the police. Why not?

  • Because police don’t stop abuse. Most often victims’ primary goal is not to have their abusive partner arrested–it’s to have them stop abusing them. When police do arrest an abuser, they are usually sent right back home and forced to attend and pay for coercive therapy programs. If abusers are jailed, the cycle of harm is perpetuated setting the stage for more trauma and more abuse later.
  • Because police harm survivors. Survivors of abuse are often accused of crime by police, and they are often abused or assaulted by police. Calling the police also means that DCF is going to get involved in your family, with a likely result that you will lose custody of your children and suffer additional punitive sanctions or prison. This system of family policing regularly punishes mothers for “failing to protect” their children from their abusive partners.

Co-response programs do not address these harms. In order to help the majority of victims who are not calling for help right now, we need a completely different framework–one that offers justice for victims and stops the cycles of harm that lead to abuse in the first place. Policing and incarceration play a central role in that cycle of harm and abuse. We do not claim that non-police crisis response programs like CAHOOTS are a clear fix for domestic violence emergencies, either. The message from survivor advocates is clear: there is no easy fix, no one-size-fits-all solution for helping survivors, but we have to aim to reduce harm. For this reason we cannot let policing and prison solutions be the focus of our responses to abuse.

Further reading

Greenfield PD 101

The Mayor and Greenfield Police Department issued fear-mongering public statements as they continue to avoid dealing with the egregious misconduct brought to light in the Buchanan & Dodge vs. City of Greenfield lawsuit. This is a great time to share what we know about the Greenfield Police Department–how they spend their time, how they spend our money, and what kind of shenanigans they would rather forget we know about.

How GPD spends their time

Last year we analyzed GPD’s press logs to get a better idea of how they spend their time and what our community’s needs are. Here’s what we found:

As Acting Chief Gordon mentioned in the Recorder, GPD handles around 32,000 calls per year. However, over 90% of these calls have nothing to do with crime–not even allegations of crime. Less than 1% of police calls involve reports of assault or violence, and only about 6% of calls involve supposed property crimes—including many mundane items like “caller’s wife took his debit card,” “two large pumpkins stolen off porch,” and “BLM sign stolen.” Two thirds of police calls fall into categories including assistance for residents (28.8%; for example, “person flagged down officer to ask relationship advice”), traffic matters (20.4%), hazards (5.3%; “tree down”), and alarms randomly going off (7.6%). Complaints (17%) and disputes (9%) include many calls like people dancing in Energy Park after hours, “intoxicated person advised to go to bed,” and 102 calls (over one year) from the same address about a mental health issue.

Many, many calls are asking for help with relationship issues and addiction and substance use issues. These calls are not appropriate for the police. The city can and should do better with helping people know who they can call for appropriate help.

Many of the highest paid city employees are police, and many of them make well over $100k base salary, even without bonuses and stipends. Police are way too expensive to assign them to non-emergencies.

Greenfield has very little crime. Nationwide, crime of all kinds, but especially violent crime, is down from its peak in the 1990s. But crime in Greenfield has declined more than the national average. Arrests are down 80% from a peak in the year 2000. The peak was 1,426 arrests in 2000, while GPD only made 265 arrests in 2020. Of those arrests, the large majority are minor offenses:

Here’s how these arrests break down in 2020:

  • 185 arrests, or 70% were for low-level offenses.
  • 10 arrests were for property crimes.
  • 24 arrests were for drug violations (“crimes against society”).
  • Only 46 arrests were for crimes against person, 3/4 of which were for simple assault.
  • 11 out of 265 arrests were for “violent crime” (aggravated assault and sexual assault). That’s 4% of arrests.

A full 70% of arrests are for low-level offenses. These are exactly the kind of offenses that are used by police to justify street-level harassment of houseless people and people of color.

According to the fear-mongering press release and Facebook post by GPD, the police will have to focus on their “core mission,” presumably meaning responding to violence. Maybe if they actually do that, houseless people won’t be harassed by the cops as much.

And maybe, just maybe, traffic stops for “Driving While Black” will finally go down.

5/19 Update: Mayor illegally retaliating against Lt. Dodge?

What we learned today: The Mayor may be illegally retaliating against Lt. Dodge, the only GPD officer to testify in support of Buchanan’s claims. He was placed under “house arrest” (during work hours) as soon as the verdict was filed, and GPD is “investigating” him for supposedly lying on the stand. Court documents filed today show that the City has provided no information about what supposed lies Dodge told. It seems clear he’s being illegally retaliated against for breaking the “blue wall of silence.” See court documents released today.

How many more lawsuits is the Mayor trying to bring on the City of Greenfield?

Tonight the City Council resumes yesterday’s meeting at 6:30pm, at Jon Zon and over Zoom, with the police budget first up on the agenda. Councilors have asked that people please come and show support during this difficult debate.

May 18 Updates on Buchanan case & GPD

Thank you to everyone who came out Monday! Let’s keep the pressure on–We will not let this rest until we we’ve gotten justice. Please come out to the City Council Meeting at Jon Zon Community Center, 35 Pleasant St., at 6:30pm, and give comment if you can. Zoom attendees will not be able to give comment.

Some helpful updates before tonight:

  • The court awarded Patrick Buchanan $450k, but the city owes interest from the date the case was filed in 2017. Total over $700k + legal fees. The longer the case goes on, the more we owe him.
  • The city’s lawyers are trying to get a mistrial declared. They might get it, but that ruling would be appealed and the case will again go to court. Greenfield will lose again & owe a few more years of interest.
  • The mayor signed a 3-year contract with Chief Haigh in January, even though the jury trial was underway.
  • City Council has no authority to fire city employees. The Mayor manages city departments, so we have to pressure her to make the changes we want.
  • City Council can cut budget allocations, and they should cut GPD by $1 million tonight. That will bring Greenfield police spending in line with similar towns—excluding, of course, the hundreds of thousands our insurance will pay to Buchanan and any severance deals the Mayor might cut. But firing McCarthy and Haigh will cut two of the biggest salary packages from GPD’s budget—together over $300k.

Suggested talking points and demands tonight

  • Take responsibility for harms committed by our officers. Get rid of Chief Haigh and Lt. McCarthy—Council can’t do this, but let them know we want them gone.
  • Cut the GPD budget by $1 million. Bring our police spending in line with similar towns, and use the only lever available to the council to force change on an anti-democratic mayor and corrupt police department.
  • Don’t spend our money on superficial changes that don’t work: Training. Co-responder/ride-along clinicians. Community policing.
  • Spend our money on addressing community needs appropriately: Housing. Public health & harm reduction. Mental and behavioral health supports. Prioritize the people who are most harmed by the status quo, build racial justice and community well-being.
  • Nothing about us without us. If we learned anything from this court case, it’s that we cannot trust the mayor or GPD to deal with racism or other wrongdoings. Start a thorough, public process of dealing with the wrongdoing at GPD, acknowledging our community’s needs, and shifting our resources where they belong.

Protest – No Executive Session!

URGENT call for action

Protest the Mayor’s Executive Session – Monday, May 16, 5:30pm at City Hall (14 Court Sq)

The Mayor called a “special executive session” for Monday, May 16 to discuss the verdict in the discrimination lawsuit against Greenfield and the Police Department. The public is not allowed to attend. According to the rules of executive sessions, if they hold an executive session COUNCILORS AND THE MAYOR WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO DISCUSS THE TOPIC PUBLICLY AT ALL, **EVER.** That means there will be no honest accounting for the wrongs done at GPD, or by this mayor or former mayor Martin in enabling those wrongdoings at GPD. As always, the Mayor is trying to brush this under the rug, avoid consequences, and continue with corruption as usual.

The evidence in the court case is DAMNING. We demand public accountability and consequences at GPD!

The council can vote NO to entering executive session and some councilors are ready to do just that. Email and call your councilors, then COME PROTEST WITH US AT 5:30pm, Monday, May 16! Tell the mayor and the council we are watching!

See and share the event on Facebook.

For the full story see this week’s My Turn (op-ed) and blogpost Why Defund the GPD.

Why Defund the GPD?

Note: we have since learned that the award accrues interest since 2017, when the case was filed. Current tally is over $700k + legal fees.

Greenfield spends way too much of our money on a corrupt police department. This is absurd and shameful for many reasons:

  • The Buchanan case sheds more light on the long history of racism at the GPD, as well as sordid details of on-going misconduct by GPD officers.
  • Greenfield spends way more per capita on policing than similar cities and towns in our region.
  • GPD spends only a tiny fraction of their time and resources on anything related to allegations of crime. We should cut spending to institutions that cause harm and invest in programs that address the root causes of social problems.

1. The Buchanan case

On May 6, 2022, a jury awarded $442k to former GPD officer Patrick Buchanan, who sued Chief Haigh and the City of Greenfield for racial discrimination (see Recorder article). This case brings to light yet more details in a long history of blatant racism at GPD. The mayor supports Chief Haigh and intends to appeal–under the presumption that a Chief who thinks racial bias in traffic stops is “not a problem”; and Lt. Daniel McCarthy, who proudly displayed a Confederate flag in his garage causing public outcry (and whose own promotion to Sergeant was the subject of a state corruption investigation, and who has a record of harassing numerous residents), will somehow be cleared of “racial animus” against a Black officer. (Or, more likely, the City of Greenfield hopes they can strike the incident of the Confederate flag from the evidence, as they tried repeatedly to do in the case already decided.)

Some important back story (drawing partially on published court documents):

  • Chief Haigh pushed hard for GPD to leave the Civil Service hiring system, saying this change allowed him to hire “local” officers that are “well qualified.” We now know that he started pushing to leave Civil Service around the same time he wanted to avoid promoting Officer Buchanan, who had scored the highest among prospective sergeant candidates on the Civil Service exam. At that time, Haigh instructed Lt. Dodge (Buchanan’s co-plaintiff) to contact the state of Massachusetts to ask for guidance on how to avoid promoting the highest scoring candidate. (Does hiring “local” mean hiring white, Chief Haigh?)
  • Buchanan was demoted after a complaint by then-Sgt. Dan McCarthy for issuing a warning instead of a ticket to a driver. McCarthy became famous that same year for proudly displaying a large Confederate flag in his garage, causing huge public outcry but meriting no disciplinary action from Chief Haigh. McCarthy was also the police liaison to the town’s Human Rights Commission–appointed by Chief Haigh. Despite widespread condemnation of McCarthy, Haigh refused to appoint a different liaison to the HRC–demonstrating a deep lack of interest in human rights or in the public’s concerns. Greenfield tried repeatedly to prevent the Confederate flag incident from being considered as evidence in the trial.
    • Note: Even after the Confederate flag incident, Haigh repeatedly assigned McCarthy as the investigator of a string of racist and homophobic harassment incidents. Thank you, Chief Haigh, for demonstrating so plainly how little you care about civil rights.
  • After demoting Buchanan over McCarthy’s spurious complaint, Haigh passed over Buchanan for promotion on numerous occasions. On those occasions, he promoted instead the former Sgt. Rode (who was the officer who killed someone in 2017 when he was driving his cruiser over 80mph on High Street; and who was not disciplined for that incident until he was convicted in court) and Sgt. Clark (who had been removed from Court duty after it was discovered that he was inebriated while working; and who was minimally disciplined for that event).
  • Haigh called Buchanan “lazy.” Chief Haigh and other officers called Buchanan hard to get along with, complaining among other things that Buchanan had inappropriately “disciplined” a subordinate [white male] officer by taping his locker shut–when that officer repeatedly left his locker open, unattended with his gun sitting inside. (Note that officer Laura Gordon, by contrast, was suspended twice for failure to secure her gun in the police station.)
  • The City of Greenfield sought to discredit Buchanan in the trial by interrogating details of his sex life.

The racial discrimination shown in this case is consistent with GPD policing of the public, as well. Greenfield police issue citations to Black drivers and arrest Black people at a rate much higher than white people (See data for 2018, 2019, 2020). At rallies held in the summer of 2020, current and former BIPOC residents of Greenfield and Franklin County shared extensive accounts of mistreatment by GPD. The misconduct and inappropriate behavior of officers catalogued in court documents–and the lack of disciplinary action against those officers–is also consistent with complaints we have heard from many residents of Greenfield about mistreatment by Greenfield police, and we welcome the opportunity to see so much evidence of this misconduct in written form, all in one place. It is past time to do something about a department that routinely abuses their power.

Additional links to published court documents of interest:

  • Description of the case: detailed back story about unequal discipline of white officers (including McCarthy) vs. Buchanan
  • Expert assessment of GPD disciplinary/internal affairs process, detailing irregularities in Haigh’s treatment of officers. Also details additional major infractions by Dan McCarthy (seizing the cell phone of a young man who had been involved with McCarthy’s adult daughter; seizing cash and drugs and not submitting them to GPD for 8 weeks) that warranted no significant disciplinary response or investigation; as well as Chief Haigh’s targeting of a Baystate nurse for termination by her employer, after she complained when officers entered her home and removed her from the shower despite no criminal charges being filed.
  • Why the Confederate flag incident and McCarthy’s obvious racial prejudice matters to the case. Also details in a footnote on page 1-2 repeated inappropriate behavior by Greenfield’s lawyer and attempts to ‘game the process.’
  • Jury Verdict

To find and browse the records yourself, visit and search The Superior Court, Hampshire District, for plaintiff Patrick Buchanan, or docket 1780CV00033. Note that almost all of the evidence is confidential, so available documents are limited to the court process (hundreds of pages!). We will have to file a records request to get redacted versions of the evidence and testimony.

2. Greenfield spends way more per capita on policing than similar cities and towns in our region.

Greenfield has a population of 17,768, and the Mayor has proposed a police budget of  $3,839,101 for FY2023 (although the actual amount is much higher, because that figure doesn’t include any benefits, such as health insurance or pensions). That’s $216 per capita (per resident of Greenfield), excluding benefits.

Other cities for comparison:

  • Easthampton (pop. 16,211) spent $160 per capita on police in 2022.
  • North Adams (pop. 12,394) spent  $163 per capita on police in 2022.
  • Amherst (pop. 39,263) spent $131 in 2022.
  • Only Northampton (pop. 29,571) spent at a similar level to Greenfield–$209 in 2022.

If Greenfield spent $160 per capita on police, that would be $1 million less than what we spend now.

In other cities, police and fire budgets are also generally equal. In Greenfield, the proposed FY2023 police budget is a full 32% higher than our fire department budget.

Additionally, 10 out of a total 34 officers at GPD make over $100,000 base salary–that excludes all overtime, special stipends, and allowances, all of which are significant portions of their earnings. Higher-earning officers routinely work overtime because their hourly rate is so high (which only exacerbates the usual burnout that officers struggle with), typically on traffic details. We could save lots of money by hiring DPW workers to direct traffic as needed during their regular work hours, rather than paying our most expensive employees time-and-a-half.

3. GPD spends only a tiny fraction of their time and resources on anything related to allegations of crime.

The Greenfield Police Department’s own data show that only a small portion of their caseload is responding to reports of crime. The majority of GPD work is responding to community requests for assistance.

GPD only made 265 arrests in 2020–fewer than one a day, mostly for minor infractions. Arrests have been steadily, sharply declining since a peak in 2008 (1,244 arrests).

Additionally, Chief Haigh has been pushing to expand expensive, misguided “community policing” initiatives that harm those they’re supposed to help.

  • GPD has three “community resource officers” whose job is allegedly to support struggling members of the public, especially our neighbors who lack housing. But police are not care providers, and police culture is completely incompatible with harm reduction. We have heard repeated complaints about mistreatment and punitive sanctions by the CROs against houseless people–for example, that an officer will offer someone a backpack of groceries and toiletries only to turn around and issue them a citation.
  • GPD contracted with CSO for a “co-responder” mental health clinician to accompany police on mental health calls. However, police trainers (CIT) and even the federal government say that co-responder models are misguided, and mental health calls should be answered by providers without police involvement. See our FAQ on co-responders.

It is ridiculous to pretend we can provide social services through the police. Our resources would be better spent on programs that deal with the root causes of harm, programs that have proven track records of improving outcomes for community members without threat of punishment, violence, or incarceration.

GPD’s own data support this conclusion. In 2020, GPD reported 18 injuries from use of force. 14 of those injuries happened on calls related to mental health or substance use–calls that civilian programs handle exceptionally well, with no reports of injury over many years.

Tell councilors we’ve had enough.

A corrupt, bloated GPD needs to be cut. At the same time, Greenfield can join the growing number of cities shifting budget priorities to reduce their reliance on police and instead meet the real needs of people in the community. Let’s shrink GPD by $1 million and invest in our community instead.

Call or email city councilors, and attend the budget meeting May 18, 6:30pm, in person at the John Zon Center, and make public comment if you can.

My Turn – GPD Budget

Right now, people all over the country are waking up to the realities of policing in America. We are realizing that police don’t solve the problems they claim to solve; they don’t prevent violence; and no matter how much funding they receive, they don’t make communities safer. 

Here in Greenfield, our Police Department budget is significantly higher, proportionately, than other local cities of our size. Examining the GPD budget reveals many specifics that should raise the eyebrows of any resident concerned with how our city spends our money. Many line items have shot up by thousands of dollars between 2021 and 2023. One of particular concern is the “Body Camera stipend” of $51,149. This is not money for the equipment: it’s a bonus paid to officers to wear the cameras. Also concerning is the fact that money for “training overtime” jumped from $14k to $40k. Will more sensitivity training make our police force more “progressive” and less racially biased? Unfortunately the research shows that body cameras and sensitivity training have no measurable impact on racial bias or use of force in policing. 

Meanwhile, former GPD officer Patrick Buchanan has just won his racial discrimination suit against the GPD. A jury found that Chief Haigh and then-Sgt. (now Lt.) Daniel McCarthy intentionally discriminated against Officer Buchanan because he is Black. This internal racist bias is evidently directed outward to Franklin County residents as well, as the data collected by the GPD itself shows that Black residents are far more likely to be cited and arrested in this town than whites. In the summer of 2020, our Black neighbors and friends led a march attended by hundreds, and gave testimony in front of the police station on High Street. What they shared should outrage all Greenfield residents. In western Mass., the GPD is notorious for targeting and harassing non-white residents, causing many to leave town and avoid Greenfield altogether. There is a reason the population of Greenfield is overwhelmingly white: it is the effect of a long past and continued present of racist policing.

Thus it is no surprise that Black officers are met with racism when they join the force. Now the city must pay officer Buchanan $450k in damages. In the recent Recorder article about the jury’s decision, our Mayor is quoted as saying she believes Haigh and McCarthy will be ultimately “exonerated” from these charges, suggesting that she now plans to undertake a costly legal appeal. Apparently our Mayor believes that a Chief who is, by his own account, unconcerned about racial bias in traffic stops; and a Lieutenant who proudly displayed a Confederate flag in his garage, will be exonerated for discriminating against a Black officer (an officer who was criticized– rather tellingly–for not issuing enough citations). We are scandalized, and so should you be. Sadly, however, we are not surprised. Mayor Wedegartner caring more about salvaging her pals’ reputations than she does about the people they routinely abuse is just the latest in a string of refusals to take seriously the concerns of Greenfield residents.

Many people in our community struggle to make ends meet. Many Greenfield residents are houseless, living in tents in the woods or in Energy Park or couch-surfing wherever they can. Many are food-insecure, struggling to keep their children fed. Our school buildings are crowded and our teachers are underpaid. Our DPW is under-funded. Many residents can’t afford to see a doctor, and many in our community struggle with addiction and mental health challenges. Wages aren’t keeping up with inflation even as the rents are allowed to skyrocket, padding the pockets of predatory landlords in our town. All these problems make our community unsafe, and none of them can be solved with cops and jails. 

It’s time to rethink how we spend our resources as a community.  At its May 18 meeting, the city council will be voting on the city’s operating budget. We encourage community members to attend the meeting and give public comment, asking that the police budget be cut by at least 1 million dollars. This will bring it in line with the police budgets of comparable cities, and allow us to redirect the money to where it is actually needed.

Deja Vu: Police station upgrades, 2023 version

The Greenfield mayor’s 2023 capital budget once again includes $1.9 million for police station upgrades. The plan is more detailed this time but still includes questionable, expensive items, at a time when existing commitments like the fire station are running well over their budget (projected $5 million overrun–expect to hear requests for donations to make up the shortfall). See below for more information on the police station upgrades.

Please let your councilors know what your priorities are. We suggest:

  • Rein in excessive spending on the police station. Take care of needs, but no spending on luxury items. Reduce the allocation for these upgrades.
  • Prioritize instead urgent needs like building affordable housing; repairing ailing town buildings such as the Sanderson Street complex and various schools; and environmental cleanup at the Lunt property, which affects our neighbors staying in the residential detox facility on-site as well as neighboring homes.

The Ways & Means Committee meets April 7 (6pm) to discuss the entire capital budget, but there’s no time for public comment–email or call councilors on W&M before the meeting. The full council will vote to approve, amend, or deny capital budget line items at their April 20 meeting (normally 6:30pm, check closer to the date in case they start early). Join the meeting to share your public comment.

Details & back story

After public outcry last year, the City Council voted down a vague proposal to spend $5 million over 3 years to upgrade the Greenfield police station. The mayor’s budget this year includes $1.9 million for the same upgrades.

The mayor and GPD have a preliminary plan for the upgrades written by Pacheco-Ross, the architects hired to build the fire station. Interested residents can view the plan here online. We appreciate the detail provided in this plan and discussion of the known problems with moisture incursion. However, the basic repairs and reconfigurations of the structure make up only a small part of the proposal costs.

The basic repairs proposed are 1) providing dispatch operators enough space to work comfortably by moving a wall and expanding the dispatch room; 2) fixing moisture incursion from the up-hill side of the building. Together these make up only $290k of the proposal.

Most of the $1.9 million estimated cost comes from two questionable items:

1) Replacing the sally port, estimated cost $980k. A large part of the plan (almost $1m) involves replacing the sally port, which is the garage and entrance to the station where arrested individuals are taken into custody. The current sally port is a metal shed, and the police are storing some evidence there. The Chief has primarily complained that it has a leaky roof and cannot protect evidence from the weather.

As councilors pointed out, this is a very large proposed expense. According to Councilor Desorgher’s research, the New Bedford police department–a much larger department than Greenfield’s–just built a new sally port for $500k last year, almost half the cost of the proposed GPD sally port. Even last spring, the Chief’s estimate for a new sally port was only $290k. But the proposed new sally port is not just a sally port: it is three bays instead of just one, and two of those are “wash bays” for washing police cruisers. Additionally, this carwash + sally port will be built out of brick.

Our questions:

  • Why does the GPD need its own car wash, when it is mere steps away from a public car wash on High St.?
  • Why does the sally port need to be built out of brick when other materials are much less expensive, and the police station is probably going to be replaced in the not too distant future?
  • Why does evidence need to be stored inside the sally port, necessitating a larger and more substantial structure? A much more economical storage option which many businesses use is a shipping container–easy to secure, easy to protect from the weather.

2) Repaving and reconfiguring the parking lot, estimated cost $700k. There are two operational/safety concerns mentioned as justification for reconfiguring the parking lot: first, that the current exit onto High St. has poor visibility and should be made safer; and second, that currently there is no separation between police cruiser traffic and the general public traffic in the parking lot. The spending proposal includes milling, repaving, and repainting lines for a new configuration, with some regrading of the exit onto High St. But the plan also includes significant curb creation and landscaping (trees and bushes). How much of a budgetary priority is it to tear up existing asphalt to plant trees in this lot, when our town has other urgent needs?

The school district has requested a mere $250k total to repave the lot at Federal Street School, which is about half the size of the GPD lot. Paving work is quoted on a per-square-foot basis. As a town, do we want to spend an extra $200k of our borrowing on making a parking lot fancy, rather than just functional?

What’s missing in this proposal?

Future costs. The membrane roof on the police station was installed in 2009 and is approaching end of life. Chief Haigh has commented repeatedly on water incursion from the roof, but there is no line in this proposal for roof repair or replacement in this plan. We can expect that additional expense to be coming soon, and we should be budgeting for it now.

The police station is an old building, and we should not throw good money after bad. The consensus has been that the police station building is old and far from ideal for its purpose. Because plans for the new public safety complex fell through, GPD has proposed a number of renovations and repairs in order to get more use out of the building, as well as to make it safer and more usable for the public and for the people who work in it. As we said last year, we agree that we should maintain town property, and we should definitely make sure town employees have safe and healthy work environments.

We disagree that we should spend our town’s limited funds on expensive upgrades, especially to a building which will have to be replaced in the not-too-distant future. The fire station is running well over its projected budget, and the town is likely going to ask residents for donations to fund that construction. We have to clean up the Lunt complex, also, which is a health hazard for people in the residential detox facility as well as residents in the surrounding neighborhood. Other town buildings are in dire need of repair, have been left languishing for years, and are creating unhealthy conditions for town employees and our children. 

Everyone deserves a healthy building. Let’s share the money around so that everyone can benefit. This is not a time for checking items off a wishlist when simple, affordable options will do just fine. Please let your councilors know what your priorities are. See the beginning of this post for talking points.

UPDATE: Former GPD officer Patrick Buchanan’s discrimination lawsuit against Greenfield and the GPD has officially started court proceedings. How much are Greenfield taxpayers going to have to pay because of the department’s repeated discrimination and retaliation against their only Black officer? Yet another reason not to throw more money at the GPD.