My Turn – Greenfield Recorder

We write to express our dissatisfaction with the Community Policing Forum held on February 23rd by the City of Greenfield and streamed live on GCTV, and our frustration with the Recorder’s subsequent reporting on that event. We are residents who care deeply about our community and have serious concerns about the use of policing to deal with the fallout from poverty, homelessness, addiction, and mental health crises in our town. Policing will not solve these problems. We question why our town continues funding the GPD at the expense of education, housing, mental health care, and other basic survival requirements that urgently need to be met. We are also very concerned about active members of the police force who have caused harm in our community and who have not been held accountable. None of these concerns were addressed in the Forum, despite the many questions we submitted beforehand as well as during the event. 

After seeing the subsequent Recorder article (“City Looks To Expand Community Policing”), it appears that the Forum was not actually meant to answer the community’s questions at all; rather it was simply a press conference during which the Mayor and Chief Haigh touted their plan to expand the GPD’s “community policing” programs while making other minor reforms. 

The problem with this plan is that despite having more than two decades of data on the subject, no study has yet shown that community policing programs have any significant effect on objective measures of policing such as arrests, officer injury, citizen injury, or use of force. If such programs don’t get the intended results, why are we investing in them? Perhaps more to the point: Why does our paper of record not investigate the vague pronouncements of our city leadership when it prints them? Shouldn’t we be given information that could help us determine if these claims have merit? In all the talk of community policing, officer trainings, and review boards, no one has presented any evidence to justify such programs. Are we meant to take it on faith that funding more and better “community policing” programs will provide a measurable benefit to our community? 

There are other questions we should be asking, too. The GPD’s own racial bias data shows that in 2020 Black residents were three times more likely to be issued traffic citations, and almost five times more likely to be arrested, than they should have been given the most recently available Census estimates. (That report has been posted to the GPD’s Facebook page for all interested.) Are we to believe that being Black makes someone more likely to commit a traffic violation? What else could explain these numbers? If Black motorists are being stopped at a higher rate, why are they? However uncomfortable these questions might make some of us, it is important for all of us to understand that racial bias in policing happens here in Greenfield, even under the rubric of “community policing,” and we have been given no meaningful indication that it will stop. The Chief and Mayor can tout the effectiveness of community policing at holding our officers accountable, but until those officers actually stop citing and arresting our Black neighbors at disproportionately higher rates we have no good reason to take them at their word.

We had hoped that by submitting our questions in advance of the Forum, the Mayor and the Chief might take the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue with voices critical of the town’s current approach to public safety. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Because the Recorder has also declined to engage critically with city leadership, we are left with no choice but to compose this My Turn in the hope of reaching other residents with an interest in achieving real safety for our community. 

Chief Haigh knows that the majority of the police department’s caseload is social work, and he’s right that this situation calls for something other than traditional policing. But we can’t rely on our police chief to solve these problems alone. As David Brown, the former police chief of Dallas, Texas, said, “We’re asking police to do too much in this country.” The reality is that Greenfield has many social problems that simply cannot be adequately addressed by the GPD. Instead of committing to more of the same, we should think creatively about how to reduce the negative impacts of policing on the residents of our town.

As a town, we need to start asking ourselves what our budget priorities are, what they should be, and how we can redirect our community’s resources toward programs that actually improve people’s lives. Because guns and jails won’t solve our problems, we need people other than police officers tackling those problems. In the wake of high-profile police killings in other cities, our police departments nationally have been subjected to increased scrutiny. We should rise to meet this challenge, as it presents us with an opportunity to radically rethink our priorities and our approach to community safety. We hope you will join us in this important work!

Signed, the Coalition for a Greenfield People’s Budget