Action alert: Unfortunately, the Greenfield Recorder chose not to print our “My Turn” today, which dealt with the police station upgrade proposal to be approved at the Ways & Means committee meeting tonight. You can read it below, but it’s not too late to make a difference–you can call or email the committee and your councilor to let them know your opinion on the matter! Here’s what you can do:
- URGENT: Reach out to members of the Ways and Means Committee (or email the whole council) BEFORE TONIGHT, WEDNESDAY APRIL 14 at 5:30pm, when they hold their FY2022 Capital Budget Meeting, urging them not to recommend the FY2022 appropriation of $1,350,000 for the Police Station Update & Reconfiguration. You can also attend the meeting, but they may or may not allow public comment.
- Contact your city councilor (find them here), by phone or email, asking them to vote against the capital budget if it includes the police station renovation. You can also email the whole council at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Show up to the April City Council meeting (when the capital budget will be voted on) on 4/21 at 7pm and voice your opposition to the FY2022 appropriation of $1,350,000 for the Police Station Update & Reconfiguration.
- Share our My Turn widely!
$5 Million for Police Station?
Mayor Wedegartner and Chief Haigh propose $5 million in upgrades to the Greenfield police station. In the article they mention several reasons for the “necessary” upgrades, but questions remain whether this is a sound investment of our tax funds.
No one would begrudge our female police officers their own locker room, or windows for dispatch staff, or a safer booking room, or basic building repairs. Yet it’s hard to imagine how these changes add up to $5 million. Chief Haigh’s budget FY2021 letter cites “technology, safety consideration, and ever increasing accountability and services” as primary issues with the current station. Before we spend a lot of money on upgrading this station, we need to talk about the “ever increasing services” the city requires the police to provide.
The GPD call logs make it clear that most of what our police officers do is hardly police work (see chart). Greenfield is thankfully a community with very low 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.
Residents turn to the police when they want help, and the level of need in our community adds a lot of work for our police department. We all value the fact that we have someone to call in a crisis, but there are two big problems here: first, police are not social workers, even if they’re friendly and concerned about many residents’ well-being. It’s ineffective and more dangerous for everyone when we make cops play the role of social workers. Second, it’s expensive to force a lot of social and civil issues onto the police department, and we see that reflected in the $5 million bill for station upgrades. Let’s give police officers a decent workplace, but Greenfield does not need to be gearing up some kind of “modern command center” when the needs in our community are mostly homelessness, substance abuse, mental health crises, and just struggling to make ends meet.
If those are the issues we’re facing, we need to build a non-coercive “housing first” program and house our neighbors who are living on the street. We need to pay our peer recovery coaches whose important work is mostly done for free. We need to fund our existing harm reduction programs better and decouple those programs from law enforcement and threats of punishment. We need civilian 911 response like CAHOOTS in Oregon, where medics and professional peer counselors respond to mental health emergencies. We need violence prevention programs that support the 80% of domestic abuse survivors whose cases never make it to a courtroom. These programs address the causes of harm and personal conflicts. They all require resources, but they’re much more effective and cost much less than throwing police at problems once a situation has already gone bad. We must join cities across the country, including our neighbors in Northampton and Brattleboro, and provide appropriate responses to the problems at hand.
Changes to city programs require buy-in from the community. A local group has started the process of making a People’s Budget for Greenfield, where residents come together, learn about the issues we’re facing, and come up with solutions that fit our community. After lots of public learning and discussion, we write a budget from the bottom up–one that’s rooted in our priorities and catered to our needs. Our city government should buy into this process and implement the budget that residents want, not one that favors fancy capital projects with limited benefits.
You can support the police department and still see we have needs they can’t meet. We have a responsibility to care for our neighbors, especially when this pandemic and the recession have made existing problems so much worse. Let’s come together and make some real change.
Jon Magee is a member of the Coalition for a Greenfield People’s Budget.