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.