Independent investigation of GPD? & Updates

  • Mayor announces independent audit of “practices and standards” at GPD (Recorder). The mayor proposed to the city council to model the RFP on audits contracted by Methuen, MA, and Albany, NY. She estimates the cost to be $175,000. (Note that Albany, a much bigger city, spent $78k on their audit. Where’s the extra $100k going?) The mayor will issue an RFP and accept bids to audit “organizational structure and governance, operating policies and procedures, department culture, hiring and promotional practices, professional standards and accountability, budgeting and planning.”

We have concerns about an independent audit.

While we agree that we all need more information to decide how the city should move forward, investigations of this kind too often avoid accountability by moving the conversation behind closed doors. If this investigation is to provide any sense of accountability, it must also incorporate a genuine effort at public engagement. We have some initial thoughts about what that could look like:

  • The public should determine the scope of the audit and the questions to be answered. An audit that is too narrowly-focused will not address the community’s concerns and thus will not provide accountability. An audit that is focused on the wrong questions will also not answer the community’s concerns.
  • The audit should be subject to oversight by a committee of the public. Members of the committee could sign limited confidentiality agreements if necessary, but the scope of confidentiality should be sharply limited–especially since Massachusetts law states that officer misconduct is not exempt from public records law. Committee members should have the opportunity to interpret findings for themselves, to ensure a diversity of follow-up recommendations. Members of the Public Safety Commission should not be eligible, given their abysmal record overseeing GPD (see below).
  • The report should not center officers’ self-reported beliefs and actions and instead focus on outcomes for the community. Research on policing shows a sharp divergence between officers’ perceptions and community perceptions of police interactions. We have heard loud and clear that the Mayor does not consider herself a racist, but we the public are not concerned about whether the Mayor, or the Chief, or anyone else, announces in public that they are racist or anti-racist. Yes, we are concerned about whether there is evidence that officers harbor racial animosities, and we believe that such officers should not be police. But we must also focus on outcomes, because policing is part of a system that is known to have disparate, often violent outcomes for some people much more than others. The issue is too complicated to fall back on simplistic ideas about racism–even Black officers and police officials and mayors have contributed to perpetuating racial violence in policing (see for example, the police killing of Freddy Gray in Baltimore, by officers some of whom were Black, under the leadership of a Black police commissioner and a Black woman mayor).
  • Raw data used in developing the report should be made publicly available. In addition, we at the Greenfield People’s Budget believe certain basic public records should be made available through this report: all MCAD complaints against GPD; all lawsuits filed against Greenfield related to the police; all citizen complaints to GPD; all internal affairs investigations; referrals to DCF; and so on.
  • Any report’s findings and recommendations should be considered incomplete unless we are able to garner direct testimony of people who have suffered harm at the hands of the police and the criminal legal system. It will not be easy to gather testimony from people who are the target of police enforcement. We also recognize that it is dangerous for people who are policed to testify publicly on the harms they’ve experienced. We do not presently have a clear vision for how to accomplish the goal of gathering these neighbors’ input and experience, because any such effort must be rooted in the long-term goals of inviting consent, building safety, and building people’s power over their government–not the short-term, instrumental goals of one investigation. Nevertheless, we firmly believe that we must have this conversation as a community and move firmly towards being responsive to those of us who are most harmed.

On the Public Safety Commission

In addition, it has become eminently clear that the Public Safety Commission is incapable of overseeing the police department. The PSC is the oversight body of the police in Greenfield, overseeing complaints as well as hiring/firing/promoting. The Buchanan case makes it clear that the PSC has enabled repeated wrongdoings at GPD and continues to expose residents to risks of retaliation by relying on police to investigate complaints. Civilian oversight boards historically have little success in reining in police misconduct. The current chair of the PSC also has significant conflict of interest, since he is Chief Haigh’s former father-in-law.

In other news…

Let’s summarize other developments in the situation in Greenfield for those who may have missed some of the recent news. First, a comparison of budget numbers for the record:

  • FY22 Greenfield PD salaries and wages were $3,326,601.
  • FY23 Mayor’s request for GPD salaries and wages were $3,539,163 (6.4% increase over FY22)
  • FY23 GPD salaries and wages after city council’s cut: $3,139,163 (5.6% decrease over FY22)

Also note that the council’s $400,000 cut to GPD salaries is a little more than the combined salaries of Chief Haigh and Lt. McCarthy, who city council (and much of the public) wanted the mayor to let go. Councilors who wanted the cut named two primary reasons for the cut:

  • First, that the Mayor showed no sign that she would hold the police department accountable in any real way for Buchanan’s discrimination lawsuit or any of the police misconduct that the court case documented. In her first public statement after the verdict, Mayor Wedegartner said she expected Chief Haigh to be “completely exonerated.” The Mayor has furthermore lost the confidence of the council and public after repeated deception and condescension on a variety of issues, including the Lunt facility contamination and the planned outdoor cannabis farm on Country Club Rd. The public, and councilors as well, had no faith that the Mayor would take responsible action after the Buchanan case.
  • Second, that the cost of GPD per capita is much higher than similar towns and cities in our region. Most towns also have roughly equal spending on fire and police, and Greenfield spends about 30% more on police than on our fire department.

Now here’s what’s happened since the May city council meeting:

  • Actual cost of the discrimination verdict rises. Buchanan’s award from the jury was roughly $450k but that amount earns interest from 2017, when the case was filed. That puts the bill for his award alone at over $700k, but that amount will continue to grow until the bill is paid. Buchanan’s legal fees came to $418k, putting the city’s bill at well over $1 million. Many commenters have said that this amount does not come directly out of the city’s budget but is paid by of the city’s liability insurer. Are we to believe that large lawsuits will not affect the amount we pay for our city’s insurance?
  • GPD Facebook posts. Following the city council’s cut to the police budget, the Greenfield Police Department issued a memo on Facebook and through the Recorder regarding cuts to services. There was no mention of the lawsuit or any of the concerns voiced by councilors in cutting the budget–specifically, that the budget cut was roughly equal to the salaries of Chief Haigh and Lt. McCarthy, who they (and much of the public) want to be let go. Quoting their FB page:
    • Staffing will be reduced from four single-officer cruisers to two double-officer cruisers.
    • Cruiser mileage will be limited to trips that are absolutely necessary to our core mission as a police department.
    • Idling of cruisers should be limited to reduce fuel consumption.
    • We have an estimated deficit in our fuel line item of $25,000 for FY22 as a result of recent spikes in fuel costs. We expect these fuel costs to continue to rise for FY23. [Note that GPD complains of a $25,000 deficit in fuel funding but fails to mention that they are asking councilors to fund that deficit; so as of the upcoming council meeting, this so-called deficit may not even exist any more]
    • We will continue to give the highest priority to life-threatening calls. The Department recognizes that these changes will affect response times for certain calls, our proactive approach to crime and traffic enforcement, and our visibility in the community.
    • These significant changes are designed to ensure the safety of our officers by sending no fewer than two officers to a call, while addressing the financial and political realities that confront the Department.
  • Public Safety Commission avoids discussing the lawsuit or other misconduct.
    • At the commission’s May meeting, there was no serious discussion of the lawsuit or public demands for accountability on the part of officers. Rather, the discussion centered on all of the cuts they would be forced to make–specifically, 8 junior officers’ positions, rather than the two senior officers implicated in the lawsuit and other misconduct revelations. Note that this was one of the only PSC meetings to ever be recorded, thanks to a volunteer effort. The PSC, charged with providing oversight to the department, meets at the Greenfield police station. The chair of the commission is Chief Haigh’s former father-in-law, “Butch” Hawkins.
    • At the commission’s June 8 meeting, Acting Chief Gordon gave a lengthy presentation ostensibly about pending staffing cuts, although much of the presentation was given over to mischaracterizing quotes of city councilors during budget deliberations. The People’s Budget website also made a cameo appearance in his presentation, although unfortunately Gordon did not engage very deeply (or honestly) with our arguments. Much of the presentation and later discussion was concerned with how to provide safety with reduced staffing, with significant resentment directed at city council and at Greenfield People’s Budget. There was no discussion of the lawsuit or of the fact that the council imposed these budget cuts not to cut 8 junior officers but to cut the three senior officers guilty of wrongdoing. Two of our members were present and pointed this out in public comment. Molly Merrett argued against the claim that council’s cuts were making the city unsafe by suggesting that “racially discriminating against community members and members of the police department is not keeping us safe; showing up drunk to work repeatedly is not keeping us safe; displaying a Confederate flag is not keeping us safe.” Against the claim that officers are feeling demoralized and that they’ve lost community trust, Jon Magee said that it’s officers’ wrongdoings that have caused the community to lose trust in the police, and that the wrongdoings are the problem–not the community members who show up to complain about misconduct.
  • GPD cutting K9 program? GPD posted on Facebook (with a follow-up Recorder article) bemoaning that they will have to cut the new (May 2021) K9 program (“Officer Niko”). In follow-up discussion it seems clear that they will be able to pay for the $7k for the handler stipend using donations and retain the program, but the post garnered almost 1000 comments and about 350 reactions–compare to the post announcing the independent audit of GPD, which got 37 comments and 22 reactions. The Recorder article notes that the dog was donated by Tim Van Epps, CEO of Sandri Energy, and a grant from the Stanton Foundation paid for additional expenses. Again, no mention of the discrimination lawsuit other than Niko’s handler, Patrick Merrigan, dismissing the idea that they can fire 2 senior officers instead of the 8 juniors.
  • GPD promotes co-responder program. After the Greenfield People’s Budget filed a public records request for information about the police-embedded social worker program, the Recorder ran an article entitled “Police applaud clinician partnerships,” quoting only police and an executive at CSO, the agency that has the contract for working with GPD. Greenfield People’s Budget released our Co-Responder FAQ to help fill in gaps in that story: namely that 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. CIT International, the organization who wrote the trainings which most Massachusetts police receive in mental health de-escalation, have this to say about 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.”

“Why doesn’t CIT International promote the embedded co-responder model?”
  • Mayor releases Lt. Dodge from paid leave. The Mayor had placed Lt. Dodge on paid leave immediately after the verdict was announced, claiming that the city was investigating Dodge for lying during the case. Dodge was the only Greenfield officer to testify in support of Patrick Buchanan. The judge denied the City’s effort to access Dodge’s sealed testimony–Dodge’s attorneys had sought to prevent the City from accessing this testimony because the City appeared to be retaliating against Dodge for testifying on Buchanan’s behalf. Note: As the Mayor herself noted upon releasing Dodge from leave, they continue to investigate Dodge. A new motion filed by Greenfield on June 1 seeks yet again to access the sealed testimony of Dodge and Haigh, claiming that one of the two of them lied during that discussion, since they contradicted each other, and claiming that the Mass. police reform law requires the City to determine if one of them lied and report them to the state POST commission. The City’s motion makes a false equivalence between Dodge’s leave (which included the instructions not to leave his home during work hours, which is highly irregular and thus smacks of retaliation) and Haigh’s leave (which included no such instruction, to our knowledge).
  • City attempting to get a mistrial declared. The Mayor most recently said the city’s lawyer and insurer are still discussing whether to appeal the Buchanan verdict, and the Mayor claims that the case is entirely out of her hands. Note that the City’s legal team is currently seeking a mistrial on the basis that McCarthy’s Confederate flag, and Haigh’s (non-)response to it, should not have been allowed as evidence in the trial. From our perspective, it doesn’t matter whether a judge thinks this evidence is relevant to the question of racism at GPD. We know it’s a problem that our police chief was unconcerned that a senior officer displays his nostalgia for the era of state-sanctioned white supremacy and violent enslavement of African people.