Call to Action: Reject the Police Station Upgrades

Dear friends and neighbors:

Last month, the Greenfield City Council postponed the vote on whether to fund the first installment of $5 million in police station upgrades. They will issue a final vote on the upgrades at their upcoming meeting on May 19. We urge residents to speak up and let the council know they should reject the proposed upgrades.

**UPDATE: Chief Haigh submitted a more detailed memo to councilors on Monday, May 17. This memo does not change our position on the upgrades–it only raises additional issues. See our blog post for details and our response.

What you can do

Tell the city council to reject the upgrades. 

The most effective comments usually include 1) who you are, 2) why this issue matters, and 3) what the city council should do. See our talking points below for help in preparing your personal statement, but it’s also good to tell your own story about why this matters to you. You don’t need to share the level of detail given below in order to have an impact. (Please note that this debate is over a capital budget item (infrastructure, buildings), not operations (programs and departments), and money can’t be moved between those two categories.)

  • Email or call city councilors and tell them to reject the upgrades.
  • Speak during public comment at the next meeting, Wednesday, May 19, at 5:30pm (note the earlier time). Attend the meeting over Webex (in your browser) or call in. You can sign up to comment any time before the end of the public comment period. Everyone will get 3 minutes maximum to speak, so prepare your statement ahead of time. 
  • If you can’t make the meeting or want to make anonymous comment, contact us and we will try to read your comment during the meeting.
  • Write a letter to the editor and send it to the Recorder. Maximum length is 300 words. Let’s open up the debate in the wider community!
  • Share this call to action with your friends and neighbors.

Why the City Council should reject the upgrades

Here’s a summary, followed by detailed explanations of each point:

  1. The proposed upgrades are expensive and a bad investment of city funds.
  2. There has been no transparency and no opportunity for real debate.
  3. Most of the proposed upgrades are more of a wish list than urgent needs, and many of the upgrades seem unnecessary or poorly thought-out.
  4. If Chief Haigh has identified actual health and safety hazards, he needs to provide information on these hazards so the town can make good decisions to take care of employees’ health. He has not provided this information. **Update: Chief Haigh’s more detailed list of upgrades from May 17 does not include many of the health hazards he has casually mentioned in various discussions. See our blog update for details.
  5. The proposed police station upgrades will take up resources that could otherwise go to more urgent needs.
  6. We want an opportunity for the community to shape new programs that actually meet our needs, not more of the same old status quo.
  7. The city must pause these extensive upgrades.

The proposed upgrades are expensive and a bad investment of city funds.

  • The cost of building materials has gone way up, including lumber, steel, and concrete. This price spike means that building costs are going to be much higher than expected, and not only for the police station. Current prices threaten major cost overruns on the new fire station and library, neither of which have broken ground yet. These cost overruns could put significant pressure on city finances and tax rates if we are already spending near our limits based on current revenue.
  • Chief Haigh proposes $5 million in renovations on a police station building that is only valued at $820,000. It makes no sense to try to retrofit an old building at great cost only to get a few more years of use out of it. If the current station is inadequate, we should plan on addressing urgent concerns only and save our money for a proper building when we can afford to build new, and only after we have had a chance to discuss what we want community safety to look like in the near future.

There has been no transparency and no opportunity for real debate.

  • Chief Haigh’s original proposal contained no detailed information and no line items. As we have previously pointed out, every other department that requested capital expenditures included detailed line items even for much smaller amounts.
  • The Chief and the Mayor have ignored requests for more information, even from councilors. The Chief and the Mayor have not adequately responded to the many concerns we raised in our public comment at the council meeting, in our follow-up public statement, or in personal communication.
  • The timeline for public comment means there is no opportunity for genuine debate. The public was not allowed to respond to various claims made during the April council meeting, and it’s unlikely that we will get to see any further information with any significant lead time before the meeting on May 19. Councilors have been busy with budget meetings, and even they have not been provided an update from the Chief. The upcoming meeting will allow public comment, but only before the debate on the station upgrades–in other words, we will not be allowed to respond to any issues or spurious claims that come up in that debate. Given the importance of this issue and the level of concern which residents have expressed about these expensive upgrades, it is absolutely not acceptable to foreclose genuine debate.
  • The Chief has not been forthright in his characterization of the upgrades and has avoided the real issues we have raised. Chief Haigh has not made any effort to justify his claims of health and safety issues, but rather retreated to claims that opponents want to “punish the police.” He has also repeatedly referred to MPAC accreditation as requiring us to pay for particular upgrades, while never specifying which upgrades affect accreditation or why accreditation should guide our spending in the first place. (As we have said previously, accreditation does not equal actual accountability–as proven by Springfield and Northampton’s departments. Accreditation is also optional.)

The proposed upgrades are more of a wish list than urgent needs, and many of the upgrades seem unnecessary or poorly thought-out.

  • Councilors have shared with us what they saw when they toured the police station and saw existing issues with the building.
  • If particular issues are health and safety concerns, Chief Haigh needs to detail the issues and provide estimates for remediation. For example, the Chief could easily acquire a free estimate for mold remediation, if that’s an issue. He has not provided this information, despite having an entire month since the last council meeting. We want to know what hazards exist so we can make good decisions and attend to city employees’ health. **UPDATE: Chief Haigh’s May 17 memo does not include any mention of mold, HVAC issues, or cell blocks, some of the primary health and safety hazards he has described in public forums. See our blog post for details.
  • If dispatch workers are housed in cramped quarters at the police station, they could be moved to the new fire station (a move suggested by the Lt. Fire Chief himself) and then their room would become available for communications hardware. This solution resolves two of the issues Chief Haigh says need urgent attention, but it has clearly not been considered.
  • A variety of other proposed upgrades seem unnecessary or excessive. Examples:
    • Two female locker rooms. Chief Haigh has touted the need for an additional female locker room now that there is one female officer and one female supervisor. What he has not said is that the GPD already has one female locker room, and the additional room would be to separate the supervisor and the officer. Is there a reason that two women can’t share a locker room?
    • Sally port. The sally port is a metal garage that covers the entrance for taking people into custody. The Chief has suggested that a leak in the roof of this carport is a problem, so the garage must be replaced with a permanent structure. It is easy to repair leaks in metal roofs, and (per the Chief’s comments in the Recorder) maybe a carport is not the place to store evidence that’s not weather-proof.
    • Parking lot resurfacing. We would like to know how re-oiling the parking lot qualifies as urgent.

The proposed police station upgrades will take up resources that could otherwise go to more urgent needs.

  • Other city buildings are in worse need of repair, including school buildings, the non-accessible Town Hall, and the neglected Sanderson Street complex which houses the Recreation Department and Building Inspector offices.
  • Urgent social and economic needs demand our attention: houselessness and affordable housing, mental and behavioral health crises, addiction, and so on. A police station renovated at great expense will not meet these needs. We are in the midst of a recession and a pandemic. We should be shifting our capital expenditures towards the infrastructure for a housing first program, a peer-based crisis response program, and other community support programs.

The city must pause these extensive upgrades.

The city government in Greenfield has not yet engaged in any way with current debates about policing, and the upgrades to the police station have clearly been proposed under the assumption that policing in Greenfield will continue to be business-as-usual into the future.

We believe that any large, forward-looking allocations to upgrade the police station infrastructure should be postponed until we in Greenfield have held our own democratic process of deciding whether more policing is the best use of our limited resources, given the problems we face.

For additional background information, see our previous public statement in response to the debate at the April city council meeting.