The Greenfield Recorder provided only partial coverage of the April city council meeting and the debate over spending on police station upgrades, leaving many claims unchecked and out of context. We helped mobilize many residents to share their concerns with councilors and take part in the discussion, and our concerns have not been fully addressed.
There has been much confusion both in public debate and in the Recorder’s coverage. In order to move forward, the public deserves good information and an honest assessment of the debate. In particular, we would like to clarify points raised in the debate and suggest a way forward for the City Council.
We wish to thank city officials for engaging in this conversation with us, and we also thank our fellow concerned residents who have taken part in this debate. We look forward to collaborating with all of our neighbors as we work to meet our community’s most urgent needs with the resources that we have.
Caroline Bruno, Ella Condon, Jon Magee, Molly Merrett, Natascia Pica, Andrew Ritchey, Marianna Ritchey, Kaydance Cici Scotto, Sienna Valente-Blough
For the Greenfield People’s Budget
- This debate is not about “punishing the police.” We want a city budget that serves the urgent needs of the people, and many residents clearly agree with us. The city asks the police to do too much already, so we should plan for developing alternative, appropriate responses to our needs that don’t involve police.
- We have not seen enough information about the proposed station upgrades to debate their merits or their urgency.
- Accreditation is one more case of police overseeing the police. Accreditation has neither prevented nor corrected rampant misconduct in Springfield and Northampton. That’s not accountability, and it’s not clear that accreditation should drive our police spending.
- We recognize that there are important differences between the capital budget and the operating budget. We still want the city to shift resources toward meeting the most urgent needs of residents.
- The city government in Greenfield has not yet engaged in any way with debates about the shortcomings of policing and the promise of human-centered alternatives–debates embraced by the communities of Brattleboro, Northampton, and Amherst. The upgrades to the police station have clearly been proposed under the assumption that public safety in Greenfield will continue to be business-as-usual into the future.
- We can take care of health and safety issues for city employees, but let’s postpone funding additional station upgrades until we have an idea of what public safety will look like in the near future.
Recommended next steps for the Mayor, City Council, and Chief of Police
- Detail the proposed upgrades and whatever health and safety issues exist in the police station building. Please share this information with the public and allow time for meaningful public debate.
- Commit to public safety beyond policing. Governments have asked police departments to deal with too many social problems that they are ill-equipped to address. As Chief Ronnie Roberts (Olympia, WA) says, it’s time for police departments to “hug the cactus” and allow others to take on problems they can’t solve themselves.
- No planning to grow policing capacity. Pause all upgrades to the station besides health and safety issues. Acknowledge that public safety is changing rapidly in response to public demand. There is ample evidence that alternative peer- and community-based public safety programs are successful and have a multitude of benefits for communities. In this context, planning to grow future policing capacity is not a wise investment.
- Buy into the process of democratically establishing new programs that respond to our urgent needs. We at the Greenfield People’s Budget are preparing to facilitate community-wide conversations about our city’s needs and the best ways to meet them. City officials can support this process and learn along with us as we move forward. After these public conversations, teach-ins, and visioning sessions, the City will have the opportunity to implement the budget that residents want.
Full Public Statement From the Greenfield People’s Budget
This debate is not about “punishing the police.” We want a city budget that serves the urgent needs of the people.
Chief Haigh suggested that those criticizing the proposed $5 million expenditure on police station upgrades are trying to “punish” the police. But as Councilor Gilmour said at Wednesday’s meeting, citizens have a right to have their concerns addressed by the council. We see multiple issues with the proposed police station upgrades, and they have to be addressed separately.
The police station FY2022 capital request contains no line items. It is a blank check for $1.35 million. The DPW requested $9 million, but their request contained twenty-three line items offering fine-grained detail about where the money is going. The Fire Department requested almost $3 million, and they listed nine line items specifying where the money will go. Recreation requested $1.2 million and listed eleven line items. Central Maintenance requested only $600,000, but they listed five line items.
We cannot have an honest debate without good information. Police departments across the country have historically had almost no accountability or oversight for how they spend money, so we realize that having to provide more information may be perceived as an uncomfortable change to standard practice. However, it is the responsibility of the police department to provide good information to allow government oversight and public debate. It is the responsibility of the Mayor and the Capital Improvements Committee to vet capital requests before proposing a capital budget. It is not our fault that their proposals do not stand up to public scrutiny. No department deserves a blank check from our city government.
If health and safety are the issue, then let’s talk about the specific risks. Asking for transparency is not wishing harm on anyone. Councilors claimed there were issues of legal liability or exposure to cancer risks. We the public do not have any information to support those claims. Furthermore, as we previously stated in an Op-ed in the Recorder, it’s hard to imagine how the building issues of windows for dispatch, a personal space for our one female officer, and a larger room for intake add up to $5 million.
The part of this conversation that will inevitably be uncomfortable for city officials is that we are still talking about shifting resources. As police chiefs and officers across the country have acknowledged, governments ask the police to do too much. We have shared our chart that breaks down the categories of police calls in Greenfield, and it does not make sense to ask highly-paid, armed law enforcement officers to deal with every request for assistance, every argument, every mental health emergency, and so on. It’s not appropriate, and it doesn’t lead to good outcomes for many residents. If we’re asking police to do too much already, then we should not plan for growing our policing capacity. We should be planning for developing more appropriate responses to people’s needs.
Accreditation is one more case of police overseeing the police. That’s not accountability, and it’s not clear that accreditation should drive our police spending.
Chief Haigh has repeatedly cited the need to maintain accreditation as justification for building upgrades, but he has not yet offered details about the specific standards for accreditation and how they relate to the building upgrades. When asked why accreditation is important, Chief Haigh has said that the police department is held to professional standards and audited by a state board. The Chief is proud of accreditation and views it as an accomplishment and a “gold standard” of policing. We agree that professional standards are an important part of public service and welcome the department’s effort to hold itself to high standards. However, accreditation itself does not seem to provide meaningful accountability to a community.
A major problem with accreditation by the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission (MPAC) is that it is police auditing police. The Springfield Police Department participates in the accreditation program, yet the US Department of Justice recently found rampant misconduct and excessive use of force in the SPD’s Narcotics Bureau. Among other issues, SPD officers were found to “repeatedly punch individuals in the face unnecessarily,” and a previous whistleblower lawsuit reported chronic drinking on the job. MPAC has not taken any public stance on SPD’s “self-assessed” accreditation over these findings. Instead, it was the ACLU and Committee for Public Counsel Services who filed suit in the hopes of triggering a state investigation into the department. Likewise, the Northampton Police Department is fully accredited (the same level of accreditation as Greenfield), but that has not prevented years of malfeasance and harassment of residents by officers, as highlighted in recent coverage by The Shoestring. Clearly accreditation does not equal accountability.
True accountability does not come from police investigating police. We at the Greenfield People’s Budget are interested in developing measures that promote real accountability and transparency, but these are not policies that will be implemented from within the police department, nor by a Greenfield Public Safety Commission staffed by former police officers.
We recognize that there are important differences between the capital budget and the operating budget. We still want the city to shift resources toward meeting the most urgent needs of residents.
We understand that budgets must be written according to certain rules and processes, structured by accounting practices, the city charter, and state law. The capital budget is for funding one-time expenses such as upgrades to infrastructure and equipment. The operating budget is for funding on-going departments and programs and is devoted primarily to staffing. Capital budget expenditures cannot create new operating expenses, so the capital budget can’t be used to establish new programs.
However, we are not yet pushing for the police station upgrade allocations to be shifted to new programs. Rather, we are asking for a pause for less urgent upgrades. We have paid close attention to the necessary and long overdue changes to public safety programs underway in cities very similar to our own (Brattleboro, Northampton, and Amherst). It is clear that Greenfield has many of the same problems and same unmet needs that our neighbors in these other cities have. These cities have devoted significant effort to learning about those needs and the best ways to meet them. The resounding message from their work is that policing is an inappropriate and often harmful way to deal with most problems. The city government in Greenfield has not yet engaged in any way with these 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. Those problems are obvious to anyone who pays attention: homelessness, addiction, mental health crises, and poverty. Policing has little benefit to offer those suffering from these issues, and it often multiplies the difficulties of people struggling with these situations. Let’s be smart about our resources. There is ample evidence that alternatives to policing have better results, and those alternatives will need resources: not just operating expenses, but also equipment and infrastructure outside of the police department.