Chief Haigh presents @ City Council meeting, Jan. 18

After the gross falsehoods and misrepresentations shared by Acting Chief Gordon the last time GPD presented to City Council, we thought we would share some context ahead of time, so that people can more easily follow the claims that Chief Haigh will inevitably make. Please join the meeting tonight if you can! 6:30pm @ John Zon Center and online. Link to agenda, with zoom link, here.

Also, this little quote from GPD’s application for a DOJ grant might be of interest, as you follow along with the discussion tonight:

First, a little disclaimer: we do not like to focus on the term “crime,” since that term cedes too much to a criminal legal system that is oppressive and deeply harmful. A better approach is to focus on harm, especially since that helps us identify how the criminal legal system itself is more often a cause of harm, not a remedy. However, sometimes we have to engage the police on their own terms–so let’s talk about “crime data.”

Crime stats

“Crime data from police departments is not a comprehensive measure of public safety, and it is often misleading.”

The Center for Just Journalism,
A Journalist’s Guide to the FBI’s 2021 Crime Statistics

Why is crime data misleading? Crime rates don’t accurately represent rates of violence because (1) MOST crimes are nonviolent offenses, and (2) MOST crimes, and especially violent crimes, are not reported to the police. (There are other important reasons too–see links below.) Crimes that aren’t reported are not counted in published and publicized “crime rates.”

Crime rates are also created and reported by police, who routinely manipulate them for political purposes, both up and down depending on exigencies of the moment.

Even the FBI itself warns in their report “Caution Against Ranking,” comparisons of crime rates “provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular state, county, city, town, tribal area, or region” and “lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents.

What gets reported to police? Not what you might think.

For more guidance on understanding crime stats, we recommend:

As The Appeal points out, crime stats are useful for some things:

The FBI publishes historical crime data going all the way back to 1975, which can provide essential context for understanding how year-to-year changes in crime rates fit into longer trends. The increase in homicides during 2020 was one of the largest jumps in decades, but even so, homicides remain well below their peak in the 1980s and early 1990s.

FBI Crime Data is Out. Here’s What You Need to Know.

For some of that longer-term perspective on Greenfield, here’s a chart. Contrary to Deputy Chief Gordon’s claims last summer, no, crime is not as bad as he’s seen it in decades.

Greenfield arrest data 1998-2021. Source: FBI Crime Statistics.

GPD’s Rapsheet

This is a timeline of known harms and malfeasance committed by the Greenfield Police Department. This is a working document which we will expand as additional information becomes available. This is NOT an exhaustive list but focuses on those incidents verifiable through public records and newspaper articles.

Why share this list publicly?

  • Nowhere else is this information compiled in one place, and it is very hard to find many of these stories. Compiling this information helps us, the public, to identify and acknowledge patterns of misconduct, rather than rely solely on the word of public officials.
  • The Mayor and the police department never admit past wrongdoing. Instead they use vague language to talk about ‘community trust’ and very occasionally ‘learning from mistakes.’ How are we supposed to ‘move forward’ as a community if we’re not allowed to talk about what they supposedly learned–those things the police supposedly aren’t going to do anymore?

We present this information in a good faith effort to facilitate community dialogue about policing in Greenfield. We welcome corrections and information on additional incidents. We know there are additional lawsuits and settlements not included here–can you help us find them?

1980s – Officer Susan Heath wins a sexual discrimination lawsuit against GPD. (She wins a second sexual discrimination lawsuit against FCSO in the 1990s.)

1997 – Police Chief David F. McCarthy (Officer Dan McCarthy’s father) appoints his son as a K-9 officer, a position which includes a pay raise. The town manager warns Chief McCarthy that this decision violates state ethics rules which require officials to recuse themselves from decisions that affect the finances of relatives. The town manager warns McCarthy that he cannot participate in any promotional process in which his son is a candidate.

1999-2000 – Chief David F. McCarthy yet again violates state ethics rules by pressuring senior GPD officers and select board members, against their opposition, to support his son to be promoted to sergeant in the next round of promotions. Dan McCarthy is promoted to sergeant in August 2000. In 2002, the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission finds that Chief McCarthy violated ethics rules in his son’s promotion and fines him $4,000, but Sgt. Dan McCarthy retains his promotion.

2004-2011 – Capt. David Guilbault is promoted to Chief of Police. During his tenure he promotes an aggressive use of force policy, resulting in a number of lawsuits and settlements. Increasingly frequent and expensive lawsuits lead to pressure to replace Guilbault.

2010 – Officer Scott West tases driver Oliver Rich of Hatfield seven times, including directly in the groin. Rich is arrested but all charges are dropped. Rich sues GPD in federal court claiming assault and battery and a civil rights violation. In 2013, the city settles out of court for $87,500.

2010 – Sgt. Todd Dodge and Officer Chad Sumner arrest activists who were lawfully filming police and correctional officers, charging them with trespassing, resisting arrest, and wiretapping. The activists are held overnight without access to blankets or pants. They are found innocent on all counts in a 2011 jury trial. Around this time these same activists record Sgt. Dan McCarthy following them around Greenfield, filming their second encounter with him and the mayor. In 2013, one activist files suit against GPD for wrongful arrest, also alleging that while he was in jail overnight his mobile home was towed and searched out of retaliation. In 2015 the city’s insurance settled out of court for $32,500 (more info at CopBlock’s site here).

May 2011 – Capt. Gary Magnan circulates a photo during roll call depicting a woman simultaneously smoking a cigarette and giving oral sex to a man. Magnan would become Provisional Chief from September 2011 until his sudden retirement in May 2012. (See Laura Gordon v. Greenfield court documents.)

2012 – Officer Laura Gordon sues the town of Greenfield for discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation for filing complaints about this treatment. While serving in GPD, she was demoted seemingly without cause and denied personal use of cruisers, a privilege offered to every other (male) detective. Complaints in court documents include that male officers regularly viewed pornography while on duty and in meetings and told lewd jokes. After filing her original complaint in 2011, Gordon was subjected to retaliatory disciplinary investigations and actions and denied privileges offered to male officers, such as light duty after an injury. Court documents also note that, shortly after Mayor Martin congratulated Gordon on winning the “permanent position” of court officer, Martin hired his brother-in-law to replace Gordon while she was away on vacation. The case is settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. (See Franklin County Superior Court case 1278CV00117.)

2013 – Mayor Martin hires Robert Haigh, Jr., of Orange PD as Greenfield chief of police.

2014 – GPD posts mugshots and names of people arrested for drug possession on Facebook, publicly shaming people who are merely arrested, not convicted, and struggling with addiction.

2015 – Sgt. Dan McCarthy’s neighbor complains that his young son, who is Black, is disturbed by seeing the large Confederate flag that McCarthy has hanging in his open garage. Public outrage leads to vigils and protests. Despite widespread concern and demands for accountability, Haigh never opens an internal investigation into McCarthy for “Conduct Unbecoming to an Officer” or for any other charge. Haigh had appointed McCarthy as police liaison to the Human Rights Commission, but in light of the controversy HRC stated they would deal directly with Haigh. Haigh refused, keeping McCarthy as liaison through 2019. Throughout the incident and continuing to the present, McCarthy keeps the flag in his garage but keeps the door closed more often. The parents who originally reported the flag to the public are subject to intense homophobic harassment on Facebook and on internet hate sites. This episode, among others, is a key point of evidence in Officer Patrick Buchanan’s discrimination lawsuit against the city of Greenfield, although the City’s lawyers claim that it has no relevance or bearing on the case.

2016 – Anonymous, targeted racial and sexual harassment of city councilors leads to further controversy in Greenfield. Councilor Penny Ricketts, who is African American, receives anonymous demeaning, threatening racist images and messages, causing great personal distress. When city council president Rudy Renaud defends Councilor Ricketts publicly, Renaud also receives nearly identical demeaning, threatening homophobic images and messages. Despite the controversy over McCarthy’s political views and affiliation with the Confederate flag, Chief Haigh assigns McCarthy as the investigator for these incidents of hate and harassment. The investigation finds nothing.

2016 – Officers Soto and McDowell enter the home of a Baystate Franklin nurse and arrest her in her shower (officers claim to be following up on a potential OUI, but no charges were ever filed against her). The nurse later reports that officer Soto threatened her with calling DCF on her family (DCF was in fact called by Soto, found nothing of concern, and reportedly told the nurse that she could sue the City and GPD). Once released, she calls the police station to express anger at Officer Soto for how he treated her. The call is recorded and Lt. Dodge plays it for Chief Haigh, who then tells the hospital that the nurse has made threats against police officers. Baystate fires her. At this point she files a complaint with the PSC. The PSC, which has no legal or administrative support of its own, is concerned about Greenfield’s probable legal liability and refers the case to the Mayor’s office and town counsel. The complaint is “investigated” by Deputy Chief Mark Williams, who finds no evidence of wrongdoing–but the investigation does not claim to address Haigh’s own actions in calling the woman’s employer, suggesting that the City consult their own legal counsel in preparation for a probable lawsuit. No further action is taken.

2016 – Detective Todd Clark over the course of 3 months has 3-4 incidents in which he is found to be inebriated on duty, including a December 16, 2016, incident in which he is dismissed from the courthouse. During these incidents Clark operates a police cruiser and is in possession of a gun. Clark receives only a verbal warning from Chief Haigh and is reassigned from court officer duties. (See Buchanan court documents.)

2017 – In response to Haigh’s repeated, inappropriate assignment of Sgt. McCarthy to civil rights roles, the City Council passes a law ordering the creation of a position of Civil Rights Officer within the Greenfield Police Department, who would be responsible for receiving specialized rights-oriented training, handling civil rights investigations, and serving in key civil rights roles in Greenfield city government. In direct violation of this municipal law, Haigh refuses to appoint a Civil Rights Officer for almost 5 years, only eventually appointing officer Laura Gordon as CRO in 2022. As noted above, McCarthy continues to serve as liaison to the city Human Rights Commission for almost 3 years after this law passed.

2017 – Sgt. James Rode [who had the nickname of “boom boom” for his reckless driving] drives 83mph down High Street to intercept a reckless driver reported elsewhere in Greenfield, even though other units are closer. Rode’s cruiser crashes into a car pulling out of Sanderson St., killing the driver and causing serious injuries to the passenger. Rode is placed on “injured on duty” status (still getting paid) and faces no discipline until later in 2018 when he is finally indicted and found guilty of vehicular homicide. At the same time that he is arraigned on charges of vehicular homicide, he files a lawsuit against a driver he crashed into in 2015.

2017 – Officer Patrick Buchanan files a discrimination lawsuit against Chief Haigh and the City of Greenfield. His co-plaintiff, Lt. Todd Dodge, also alleges whistleblower retaliation for his supporting Buchanan’s complaint as his union representative. The complaint had previously gone before an arbitrator, who decided in favor of Buchanan. (See Hampshire Superior Court docket 1780CV00033, Buchanan v. Haigh & City of Greenfield.)

2017 – Sgt. McCarthy, while on duty, accosts a young man who had had a romantic relationship with McCarthy’s adult daughter and seizes the young man’s phone. When the young man states he will call the police, McCarthy responds “I am the police.” McCarthy says he doesn’t recall if he deleted compromising photos of his daughter from the cell phone. GPD initiates an internal affairs investigation which is dropped after McCarthy’s daughter refuses an interview if her father is not present. (See Buchanan court documents.)

2017 – Baystate Franklin hospital as usual hires GPD to police an authorized nurses’ strike and threatens the arrest of union nurses to prevent them from meeting with their union members who are finishing their shift before a lockout. Baystate uses GPD officers to escort union leaders out of the building. This is in direct violation of federal labor law, but officers follow Baystate executives’ instructions anyway.

2018 – Baystate Franklin hospital yet again hires GPD in the lead up to an authorized nurses’ strike to prevent nurse union leaders from accompanying their union nurses out of the building before a lockout, in flagrant violation of federal labor law. This time, Sgt. McCarthy physically grabs the MNA bargaining unit senior chair Donna Stern at the orders of a Baystate hospital executive. GPD is yet again a willing and eager accomplice in Baystate’s disregard for federal law.

2019 – Greenfield PD receives approval from City Council to leave Civil Service. Plaintiffs in Buchanan v. Haigh & Greenfield asserted that Chief Haigh had sought advice on how to avoid promoting Buchanan, who had scored highest on a civil service promotional exam.

2021 – Chief Haigh requests $5m over 3 years for improvements to the police station. In his request the chief provides very little information about the work being requested. The mayor, Capital Improvements Committee, and Ways & Means all approve this vague request. When members of the public and the full City Council question the high cost and vague and shifting explanations for the work requested, Chief Haigh accuses members of the public of wanting the police to “fail.” The council rejects the capital request and suggests that the Chief and Mayor develop a more detailed plan before re-submitting the request.

April 2022 – Chief Haigh requests $1.9m for improvements to the police station, according to a detailed plan developed with Pacheco-Ross Architects (under a no-bid contract). Members of the Greenfield People’s Budget raise a number of issues with the proposal: in particular, $980k, more than half of the proposed expenditure, is to construct a permanent three-bay “sally port” which includes two wash bays, even though there is a carwash directly across High Street from the police station. Chief Haigh is late for his scheduled appearance at the council meeting because he is at a bar. In the end councilors approve half of the capital request–minus the amount for the sally port, with some councilors suggesting that the Chief explore cheaper ways to provide that function.

May 6, 2022 – Jury finds that Chief Haigh and mayors Martin and Wedegartner of Greenfield discriminated against former officer Patrick Buchanan because of “racial animus,” awarding Buchanan $450k plus interest and legal fees, bringing the total to over $1m (as of the date of the verdict; the award will continue to accrue interest if an appeal is ultimately unsuccessful). When the verdict is announced, Mayor Wedegartner places Chief Haigh and Lt. Todd Dodge on paid administrative leave, for reasons that supposedly have nothing to do with Buchanan vs. Greenfield but with additional explicit instructions for Dodge not to leave his home during his normal shift hours, due to claims he is “under investigation” for lying in the case. Dodge is the only GPD officer to testify on behalf of Buchanan in the case. The judge in the trial later refuses Greenfield lawyers access to sealed testimony out of concern that the city will use it as a basis for retaliation against Dodge. Wedegartner is quoted in The Greenfield Recorder that she believes Haigh will be “completely exonerated” after appeal.

May 2022 – Greenfield City Council votes to reduce the Mayor’s requested FY2023 budget for GPD by $425,000, with some councilors explicitly stating that they wish there to be accountability for officers Haigh and McCarthy for their role in the actions that spurred Buchanan’s lawsuit. The cut is roughly equivalent to the salaries of Haigh and McCarthy. The Fraternal Order of Police union sends a letter to Mayor Wedegartner threatening legal action if she does not veto the council’s reduced budgetary allocation to GPD. (The mayor is not able to veto the council’s budget decisions.) Additionally Acting Chief Gordon posts deceptive/manipulative claims to the department’s official Facebook page, stirring up public fears and leading to threats made against councilors.

July 2022 – The Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission (POST Commission) flags two Greenfield officers for review pending further investigation, including Chief Haigh. Out of many thousands of police up for recertification by the POST Commission, only 75 officers were flagged for investigation or decertification. Officers must be certified by the POST Commission in order to serve as sworn officers in the state, although decertified officers are allowed a grace period during which they can appeal.

Sign our complaint to the POST Commission

The recently formed state-level Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission is tasked with evaluating the worthiness of police officers to serve as sworn officers. They are empowered to revoke officers’ certification, thus preventing said officers from serving as police anywhere in the state of Massachusetts. Please read our official complaint regarding Chief Haigh and consider signing below. We will not publish your name or address online, but they will be visible to the Massachusetts POST Commission in the official complaint.

To the Members of the Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission:

We, the undersigned, submit this formal complaint of Unprofessionalism (Policy or Procedure Violations/Conformance to Laws; and Conduct Unbecoming) for your review and hereby request an official investigation of the worthiness of Chief Robert Haigh, Jr., to be a sworn officer of the Greenfield Police department.

Attached please find the following documents: 

See also links to news articles in the incident narratives below.

We believe that these documents provide substantial evidence of poor judgment, mismanagement, and willful neglect on the part of Chief Haigh. We note in particular:

  • Haigh’s unwillingness to apply appropriate disciplinary measures following serious misconduct by subordinate officers, showing a lack of any effective oversight, which is his duty as chief;
  • Haigh’s obvious poor judgment in various cases:
    • in knowingly assigning an officer with a reputation for bigotry to investigate harassment and civil rights violations;
    • in refusing to cooperate with other city officials seeking to remedy said officer’s inappropriate assignments, going even so far as to violate a newly passed city ordinance;
    • in enabling his officers to violate federal labor law during multiple authorized union strike actions by nurses; and 
    • in directly causing a resident to be fired by her employer, when she lodged legitimate grievances regarding mistreatment and misconduct at the hands of Greenfield officers.

Some of these incidents have only recently become widely known to the residents of Greenfield, and Chief Haigh has lost the confidence of the Greenfield community. We present each of these issues/incidents in greater detail below.

We have additional serious concerns related to a jury’s findings of “racial animus” in personnel decisions made by Chief Haigh (Hampshire Superior Court case Buchanan v. Haigh and City of Greenfield), but we understand that as this case is currently under appeal the Commission is not yet able to consider the jury’s verdict for purposes of their investigation.

We submit these incidents below in good faith and in our best understanding of the facts as represented in the public record. We request the POST commission consider our complaint and its associated documentation and offer prompt resolution regarding the worthiness of Chief Haigh to serve as a sworn officer.


The undersigned residents of Greenfield and Franklin County

Unwillingness to apply discipline following serious misconduct by subordinates

Ancillary evidence from the Buchanan case demonstrated that Haigh neglected to impose disciplinary action against officers for a range of serious offenses:

  • While on duty, Lt. Scott Daniel McCarthy apprehended a young man on the street who had previously had a relationship with his daughter, failed to properly identify himself as a police officer, seized the young man’s cellphone, and forced him to unlock it so McCarthy could search it. The internal affairs investigation into the incident was broken off after McCarthy’s daughter refused any interview if her father was not present.
  • Lt. McCarthy also seized drugs and cash and failed to turn them in to the police department for 8 weeks. Haigh responded with only a ‘verbal warning’ for McCarthy.
  • Det. Todd Clark was known to be inebriated on duty multiple times with no disciplinary action, despite having operated a cruiser and having a gun. He received only verbal warnings from Haigh.
  • Sgt. James Rode was well known to be a poor driver, and in 2017, Rode crashed into another vehicle while driving his cruiser 83mph in a 35mph zone, killing the driver and seriously injuring the passenger. Despite this incident, Rode remained on payroll for months and months (injured on duty status) with no disciplinary action of any kind. Rode was finally fired only when he was convicted of vehicular homicide in 2018.

For reference, see especially Plaintiff’s Expert Disclosure (Document #67) regarding Chief Haigh’s misuse of the Internal Affairs process and unequal application of discipline. See these court documents for a fuller and more detailed account of the incidents described above.

See also:

Inappropriate assignment for civil rights investigations and duties, willful disregard of community concerns, and willful violation of legislative ordinance relating to civil rights

In 2015, then-Sergeant Scott Daniel McCarthy was discovered to be displaying a large Confederate flag in his garage. McCarthy’s neighbor brought this fact to the public’s attention because his young son, who is Black, was disturbed and fearful because of the Confederate flag at the residence of a sworn officer. Public outrage over McCarthy’s flag led to vigils and protests, while McCarthy’s neighbor was subject to intense homophobic harassment out of retaliation for reporting the flag to the public. Despite widespread concern and demands for accountability, Haigh never opened an internal investigation into McCarthy for “Conduct Unbecoming to an Officer” or for any other charge, instead taking the position that the flag was within McCarthy’s private rights of free speech.

Chief Haigh had previously appointed McCarthy as police liaison to the Greenfield Human Rights Commission, an appointment that already raises concerns given McCarthy’s personal political inclinations and reputation in the community. In light of the flag controversy, the HRC considered it inappropriate to communicate with the police department through Sgt. McCarthy and asked to communicate directly with Haigh. Haigh refused this request and in fact kept McCarthy as liaison to HRC through 2019.

In 2016, anonymous, targeted racial and sexual harassment of city councilors led to further controversy in Greenfield. Councilor Penny Ricketts, who is African American, received anonymous demeaning, threatening racist images and messages, leading to great personal distress. When fellow city councilor Rudy Renaud defended Councilor Ricketts publicly, Renaud also received nearly identical demeaning, threatening homophobic images and messages. Despite the controversy over McCarthy’s political views and affiliation with the hateful icon of the Confederate flag, Chief Haigh assigned McCarthy as the investigator for these incidents of hate and harassment. The investigation found nothing.

In direct response to Haigh’s repeated, inappropriate assignment of McCarthy to civil rights roles, the City Council passed a law ordering the creation of a position of Civil Rights Officer within the Greenfield Police Department, who would be responsible for receiving specialized rights-oriented training, handling civil rights investigations, and serving in key civil rights roles in Greenfield city government. In direct violation of this municipal law, Haigh refused to appoint a Civil Rights Officer for almost 5 years, only eventually appointing officer Laura Gordon as CRO in 2022. As noted above, McCarthy continued to serve as liaison to the city Human Rights Commission for almost 3 years after this law passed.

For additional references, see:

Enabling officers to violate federal labor law

In both 2017 and 2018, Baystate Franklin Medical Center hired GPD officers for special detail assignment in the lead up to an authorized nurses’ strike. On each occasion, in flagrant violation of federal labor law, GPD officers threatened the arrest of union nurses to prevent them from meeting with their union members who were finishing their shift before a lockout. Despite this recurring violation of labor law by GPD officers under his charge, Chief Haigh has not intervened in any way or sought additional training for officers regarding the law or their responsibilities under the law.

For additional references, see:

Retaliating against a complainant

In 2016, GPD officers entered the home of a Greenfield resident with no warrant and only on suspicion of a previous OUI. The resident was in her shower at the time. Officers forced her to exit her shower and dress in front of them. She was never charged. In her official complaint, the nurse listed damning details of the behavior of GPD officers, including calling DCF on her out of retaliation. When she phoned the police station and angrily complained to the officer who arrested her, Haigh informed her employer, leading directly to her termination. The resident’s complaint was investigated by Deputy Chief Mark Williams, but because Haigh was his superior officer Williams declined to address Haigh’s own actions in calling the woman’s employer and getting her fired, suggesting instead that the City consult their own legal counsel in preparation for a probable lawsuit. No further action was taken. To our knowledge there was never a disciplinary or legal review of Haigh’s actions which resulted in the resident’s being terminated from her employment.

See accompanying documents from the Public Safety Commission complaint for a more complete narrative.

By signing below, I add my name to this complaint and express my concerns about the fitness of Robert Haigh, Jr., to be Chief of Police of Greenfield.

Note: We will not share your information with anyone other than the POST Commission, but information we submit to POST will be subject to public records laws. We will only contact you regarding the progress of this complaint, unless you are already signed up for our email list.

Call to Action: Demand the Task Force We All Deserve

Councilor Marianne Bullock has proposed a “City/Community Public Safety Task Force” with a long-term vision of creating a “community engagement process for defining a transformational vision for public safety that shifts resources from enforcement and punishment to prevention and wellness into subsequent budget cycles.” We like the sound of that–and the devil’s in the details.

Community task force vs. independent audit

The community task force proposal is in part a response to the Mayor’s proposed audit of GPD following the racial discrimination lawsuit against the city and Chief Haigh and the ensuing public outcry. The task force will be run by volunteers. The audit will be performed by hired professional consultants.

The audit can address policies and stated procedures of the Greenfield Police Department, but as Councilor Bullock’s proposal already states, any community task force should not focus on GPD. We already know that most of the calls directed to the police could be better handled in other ways. We know that the kind of safety many community members urgently need cannot be delivered by law enforcement. We know, per the American Public Health Association (here and here), that the best ways to reduce the racialized harms of the criminal legal system are to reduce people’s contact with police and invest in community support and prevention. That’s why we are calling for the task force to focus on addressing our community’s safety more broadly.

Councilor Bullock’s proposal is framed that way. But who’s going to steer this task force? The mayor? The police? The mayor holds final say over how this task force is structured. That makes us very concerned.

Our demands

The task force must prioritize addressing the material needs of our neighbors, especially those most harmed by policing and by shortfalls in essential services.

In order for our group to support the City-Community Task Force, the following changes must be made:

  • No police or public safety commission members on the task force (See all of our reasons here). Include police and other officials and professionals in the process through a non-voting advisory board to avoid conflicts of interest and reduce the currently excessive number of proposed seats on the task force.
  • The mayor must agree to appoint the members that the city council recommends.
  • Fund administrative assistance for the task force.
  • Provide meaningful stipends; participants can opt out of a stipend if they choose but should be encouraged to take stipend if it’s helpful for their participation, with no explanation needed.
  • The task force must be able to make recommendations on a rolling basis before 18 months, as they see fit.
  • The scope of the task force’s work must include community needs assessments, as well as feasibility studies for the implementation of best-practice programs like housing first and non-police crisis response. Feasibility studies are necessary if the task force’s recommendations are to have a clear pathway to implementation.

Call or Email the Mayor and Council ASAP

The Mayor’s final proposal for a task force must include these provisions in order to take meaningful steps toward re-envisioning public safety in Greenfield. Please reach out to the mayor and city council to make these demands. Please email them ASAP, because the task force proposal is getting written right now. Then please join us to make these demands at the August council meeting, August 17.

Police have run local government for far too long. Let’s change that.

No Cops on a Task Force

We demand that any community task force on public safety be composed entirely of civilians, with no members of the police or public safety commission. Why?

  • Confidentiality. If the task force seeks to gather community testimony that may feature negative experiences with the police and harm caused by the police, including police officers in the task force is a gross breach of confidentiality and ethics and endangers community members. People who have had negative experiences with the police have every reason to be afraid of retaliation–it happens all the time, and the same people who have historically been targets of police abuse are also most vulnerable to retaliation. Excluding cops is not enough to guarantee confidentiality or safety, but it is a necessary first step. Note also that in other communities task force members themselves have been targets of documented police retaliation.
  • Independence. The initial move to audit the police department came from a need for an independent investigation into misconduct and discrimination which cannot successfully be carried out by anyone in the department. 
  • Trust. Community members will need to have trust in the task force before even considering sharing negative experiences.
  • Oversight. The task force is being created out of a recognized need for better civilian oversight of the police. It makes no sense, and it is a complete conflict of interest, for police to literally oversee their own department.
  • Unnecessary. The police will be deeply involved in shaping the task force’s recommendations, regardless of whether they are represented directly among voting members of the task force.
  • Experience. Task forces in other towns and cities have routinely excluded police for all the reasons listed above and still created meaningful ways for police to participate in the process. Additionally, over-policed communities, especially people of color organizing to change policing and prisons, have very clearly demanded that police be excluded from such task forces.
  • Cost vs. benefits. There are simple ways to make sure that police can meaningfully participate and be represented in the task force proceedings without including them as members in the task force (see alternative proposal below). However, the potential costs of including police in the task force are grave, as noted above. Why risk harm and undermine trust when there are better, safer options of ways to include police ready at hand?

Alternative proposals:

  • Create an official advisory board to the task force. This will help the task force have ready access to specialist knowledge, experience, and data, while reducing the total number of members (which offers other practical benefits to the process, too). The advisory board should be non-voting and should include all of those officials and professionals listed in Councilor Bullock’s proposal. There are good reasons for this beyond our desire to limit the undue influence of the police: it’s inappropriate to place employees of social service agencies in voting roles as part of their professional duties because it is a conflict of interest–these agencies could potentially acquire contracts to provide services that the task force recommends, and all agencies have pre-existing relationships with the police which they have to maintain.
  • Instruct the police department and fire department to each appoint a liaison to the advisory board (to be confirmed by majority of the task force or by city council), for the purpose of providing information, facilitating communication, and representing the position of the departments and experiences of their members. This should be a non-voting position, and the task force should be able to conduct its business independently of the police.
  • Instruct the task force to interview officers and include their points of view and professional opinions in their report.
  • Ensure there will be rigorous public outreach included in the task force’s duties: this will include interviews with stakeholders from every relevant city department including the police.

7/20: Council discusses police audit

It’s that time again–Greenfield city council meets this Wednesday, July 20, at 6:30pm, in person at Jon Zon and online over Zoom. Agenda here, zoom link here.

On the docket is the mayor’s request for $175k for an audit of the Greenfield Police Department. UPDATE 7/19: Ways & Means voted to table the mayor’s audit proposal until August. (Albany spent $78k on their audit, so $175k is probably more than the council will approve.) Councilor Bullock proposes to modify the mayor’s proposal, instead creating a volunteer, civilian task force to conduct a review of public safety in Greenfield, with a professional consultant working under the supervision of the community task force rather than the mayor. This item will be the subject of public hearing.

Because the audit has been tabled until August, we can use public comment this Wednesday to voice our concerns and hopefully influence whatever final proposal Councilor Bullock brings forward.

Public Safety Task Forces

There have been many public safety task forces, especially since the uprisings following the murder of George Floyd. We highly recommend reading the report from Interrupting Criminalization on Navigating Public Safety Task Forces. Long story short: it’s very hard to get real transformative solutions out of this kind of process, and they can have unexpected outcomes and risks of police retaliation against community members who take part. This is especially true when police and their political allies are able to commandeer or obstruct the process.

Abolitionist organizers who have navigated these task forces in the past recommend skipping straight to transformative solutions that you already know you want–such as community-based, non-police programs that build real safety–rather than getting bogged down in a long, messy process. From our discussions, though, we’re not sure folks in Greenfield are ready to support those types of changes without a sustained public conversation, and maybe a task force can provide a venue for that. Maybe we can steer this process to convince more of the public by highlighting the failures of policing and focusing on proven solutions, such as harm reduction. How do we do that? Well…

Please consider volunteering for the task force.

There’s a good chance a task force like Councilor Bullock’s proposal will be approved. If a task force is going to succeed, it’s going to need good people steering it. In Councilor Bullock’s proposal, there will be positions for one person from each precinct plus positions reserved for people with lived experience with the criminal legal system, plus a range of people in specific professions. Please reach out if you’d like us to keep you in the loop about volunteering, and reach out to friends and neighbors who you think are good candidates.


If we’re going to have a public safety task force, here are a few things that would make it more likely to succeed:

  • The task force has to consider not just what the police do, but what they shouldn’t do, and who else could do a better job meeting community needs. The task force has to be about more than just police procedures and policies–it has to be about acknowledging our needs and building our community capacity to meet those needs. (That’s why the mayor’s audit is not enough to address the community’s concerns.)
  • No cops and no public safety commission members on the task force. If the task force does any community listening sessions, we must make every effort to protect people from retaliation. That is not possible if the police are involved.
  • Task force members should be appointed by City Council, not the Mayor.
  • Appointed members should have a demonstrated interest in studying evidence and making evidence-based recommendations. Unfortunately, most policies around public safety ignore all evidence and are justified only with fear-mongering and propaganda.
  • Offer stipends to task force members. If we want a more diverse task force, we have to address barriers to participation–and that means offering to defray expenses like childcare during meetings.
  • The task force should have subpoena power to get the information they need, and they should investigate and document all institutional obstacles to getting effective civilian control over our police force and accountability for wrong-doing.
  • Along with any task force, Greenfield should commission feasibility studies for “best practice” programs that we already know we would benefit from, such as civilian mobile crisis response (a la CAHOOTS) and housing first (low-barrier permanent housing for people in need of shelter, with optional supportive services). It takes time to build new programs, so let’s not kick these cans down the road any longer.
  • The Mayor must commit to following the recommendations of the task force.

If you agree, please reach out to your councilors and the mayor to make these demands, and join us at Wednesday’s meeting to push for a process we can maybe, hopefully, be proud of, after a lot of hard work and muddling through.


There have been many similar task forces in our region:

Why Haigh Can’t Be Police Chief

We firmly believe that Chief Haigh should be removed as police chief of Greenfield. We have heard many people defend Haigh, including in public comments at the City Council meeting. Unfortunately, Haigh’s defenders have mischaracterized our reasons for saying he has to go.

Let’s lay out the reasons, team.

  • First and foremost, LACK OF PUBLIC CONFIDENCE. Haigh will never again have public confidence as Chief of Police. The Chief is above all else a manager who has to respond to community expectations, manage personnel and programs, and uphold professional standards. As we outline below, Haigh has failed on these counts.
  • DISCRIMINATION. The jury found a preponderance of evidence suggesting he and the City discriminated against Buchanan. This is the second time the City lost this case–the first time was in arbitration. It’s very hard to win a discrimination case, and Buchanan did it twice. Haigh’s discrimination practices have cost the city’s insurance $1 million, a cost that will be passed on to residents through premiums. Evidence from the trial also suggested that Haigh has accepted at face value the general sentiment at GPD that Laura Gordon is “a complainer” and “not well liked” after her lawsuit and settlement for harassment and discrimination, and Haigh appeared to accept this as a reason not to promote her.
  • LACK OF DISCIPLINARY ACTION. The Buchanan case demonstrated that Haigh neglected to impose disciplinary action against officers for a range of serious offenses. McCarthy seized the cellphone of his daughter’s ex, and he also held onto seized drugs and cash for 8 weeks with only a ‘verbal warning.’ Clark was inebriated on duty multiple times with no disciplinary action, despite having operated a cruiser and having a gun. Rode was known to be a bad driver, but when he killed someone with his cruiser he remained on payroll with no disciplinary action for months and months and was fired only when he was finally convicted of homicide. (We have also heard allegations about Buchanan’s own misconduct as an officer but none of this appears in the record. Where is the disciplinary action or at least evidence of reprimand?)
  • DISREGARD FOR COMMUNITY CONCERNS AMIDST CONTROVERSY. Haigh covered for McCarthy and his Confederate flag during the 2015 controversy. He disregarded the public’s concerns and demands. He resisted the Human Rights Commission’s efforts to deal with the controversy. He never initiated an investigation or disciplinary action against McCarthy, not even with all the hateful harassment directed at the parent who originally brought the flag to the public’s attention. Later, having learned nothing from this experience and showing total contempt for the issue of human rights, Haigh later assigned McCarthy to investigate the harassment of Penny Ricketts and Rudy Renaud. Even when the City Council passed legislation requiring GPD to appoint a Civil Rights Officer to lead such investigations, Haigh neglected to appoint anyone to the position, a breach of municipal law.
  • RETALIATION AGAINST COMPLAINTS. A nurse was arrested out of her shower, after GPD officers entered her home with no warrant and only on suspicion of OUI. She was never charged. In her official complaint, the nurse listed damning details of the behavior of GPD officers, including calling DCF on her out of retaliation. When she later angrily complained to the officer who arrested her, Haigh informed her employer and got her fired. The Public Safety Commission, helmed by Haigh’s former father-in-law, declined to form an opinion as to whether Haigh’s retaliation was appropriate or not.
  • LACK OF CONCERN FOR RACIAL DISPARITIES IN GPD ENFORCEMENT. GPD’s own data shows that Black drivers are disproportionately subject to traffic citations, and Black people are arrested at a significantly higher rate than white people. Black people make up approximately 2% of the population of Greenfield but receive about 7% of traffic citations and 9% of arrests. Under Chief Haigh, the department’s annual reports on “bias based policing” have shown no curiosity about why this biased policing happens.
  • DISRESPECT FOR CITY COUNCIL AND BUDGETARY PROCESS. It is the responsibility of councilors to evaluate the propriety of budget requests made by the mayor and department heads. For FY22 Haigh requested $5 million for police station upgrades with about as much detail as you could scribble on a napkin. His later comments about what the project entailed were inconsistent. When pushed for clarity, Haigh became defensive, bullying, and acted entitled to the funds. Similarly for FY23 Haigh requested nearly $1m for a new sally port (covered garage/entrance to the police station) as part of a larger capital request. When pressed whether he had considered cheaper ways to replace the sally port, Haigh showed no regard for thrift or willingness to consider alternatives. In fact, Haigh was at a bar when he was scheduled to appear at the council’s budget hearing. When he arrived almost an hour late, he took a disrespectful tone with councilors.

We understand that the process for terminating or demoting Chief Haigh is prescribed by his contract and must show “just cause” according to MA Civil Service laws (MGL Ch. 31). We strongly believe all of the reasons shown above, which are all part of the public record, are clear evidence that Haigh is not fit to serve as chief of police in Greenfield.

Read the court documents: Buchanan vs. Haigh and City of Greenfield

  • Description of the case: detailed back story about unequal discipline of white officers (including McCarthy) vs. Buchanan
  • Expert assessment of GPD disciplinary/internal affairs process, detailing deficiencies in Haigh’s discipline of officers. Includes major infractions by Dan McCarthy (seizing the cell phone of a young man who had been involved with McCarthy’s adult daughter; seizing cash and drugs and not turning them in) that warranted no significant disciplinary response or investigation; as well as Chief Haigh’s targeting of a Baystate nurse for termination by her employer, after she complained that officers entered her home without a warrant, removed her from the shower, forced her to get dressed while they watched, and later dropped all charges.

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.

Co-responder FAQ

Definition: “Co-responders” are social workers who accompany police responding to emergency calls, also called “police-embedded clinicians.” These programs have existed for decades, but law enforcement agencies are increasingly promoting co-response in the face of widespread criticism of police. The Greenfield People’s Budget, like many community organizers and mental health professionals across the nation, are opposed to the co-response model.

The Wildflower Alliance recently shared these “Top 10 Reasons to Just Say No to Co-Responder models.”

Q: A co-responder seems like a good, incremental step towards a better system for dealing with emergencies. Why are you opposed to incremental change?

A: At the surface level, Co-responders can seem like an improvement, but they are not an incremental change towards some other system that offers better mental health care. By keeping police involved in mental health calls, these models in fact represent a significant expansion of policing. Co-responder models serve to legitimize police being involved in more and more non-violent life situations. Police also retain ultimate authority over how the team responds to a call, despite their frequent claims of following the lead of the co-responder. Recall that co-responders are generally one clinician surrounded by police and police culture, responding to calls at the discretion of the police. A single clinician cannot take on the entrenched, punishment-focused culture of police officers and their unions, and no clinician that tried would get the job or be able to keep it.

Co-responder programs have been around for decades, and despite claims by police they are not new or innovative. Because co-responder models have such a long track record, we have plenty of evidence showing the harms of such programs. The mere presence of police causes a range of practical and ethical dilemmas for care providers. Adding social workers to police response does not guarantee compassionate care, increase community trust, or rule out coercive outcomes. Instead, it pulls social work further away from care and more towards policing and punishment. This is why 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.

Furthermore, experience has shown that co-responder programs are not an incremental change: Proponents of co-responder programs do not outline any concrete path from co-response to non-police response. For them, police-based response is the goal, not a step towards something else. In practice, co-responder programs have become a key tool for preventing non-police programs from becoming established. Because police generally retain control over emergency dispatch even when non-police programs are created, police have steered calls away from non-police programs and towards co-responder programs, in order to undermine non-police programs they see as politically threatening. Public officials have also offered generous on-going funding for co-responder programs while consistently underfunding non-police programs, setting them up to fail.

Q: Aren’t police important for keeping civilian responders safe?

A: Police assume by default that most situations are dangerous. Police training emphasizes the idea that they can be ambushed or attacked at any time. Much of the reason they assume people in personal crisis are dangerous is that police regularly witness these situations escalate into violent struggles, but police themselves are a primary source of escalation and violence. Cops’ reputation precedes them, and officers shouting, acting aggressively, and threatening an agitated person with their weapons is a proven strategy to make a difficult situation spiral out of control.

Police counter that they have special training in mental health de-escalation, usually Crisis Intervention Teams training. CIT training has changed officers’ attitudes and their assessment of their own skill in handling calls, but there’s zero evidence it has improved outcomes: CIT training does not reduce arrests, use of force, or citizen injuries. Officers proficient in CIT, some of them even CIT trainers, have killed people in mental distress. This is why, following the federal CDC, CIT trainers themselves are opposed to 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.”

CIT International, “Why doesn’t CIT International promote the embedded co-responder model?”

Non-police crisis response units are able to respond to crisis calls with much less risk of escalation. The well-known CAHOOTS program, in Eugene, Oregon, has responded to hundreds of thousands of calls over more than 30 years with very few injuries to responders or the people they’re helping. They only very rarely call the police, either. As their director said, “It’s our experience that folks in crisis just aren’t dangerous.”

Q: Should we just send a social worker team to mental health calls?

A: The best response to a mental health emergency is peer support workers and medics, not licensed clinicians. Peer counselors combine lived experience and expert training to help people in crisis get the care they need in a manner they can trust, rejecting coercive and punitive approaches (such as involuntary hospitalization) in favor of therapeutic peer support practices. However, peer support workers cannot effectively offer consensual, person-centered care in bureaucratic agencies (like CSO or ServiceNet) that collaborate closely with law enforcement, rely heavily on coercive interventions, treat their own employees terribly, and consistently prioritize profit and legal liability over patients’ well-being. Coercive care is policing by another name with similar devastating results for many clients. Unfortunately, these large institutional care providers are dominant in the existing mental/behavioral health care system.

We cannot provide appropriate care to people in crisis if we limit ourselves to a false choice between police-based interventions or profit-based interventions. 

Q: Isn’t it good that the police are involving a “community organization” in their work?

It is not helpful to call a bureaucratic, profit-oriented health agency a “community organization.” Just because they have 501(c)3 tax status does not mean they are directed by community values rather than acquiring lucrative state contracts.

Employees at CSO (and ServiceNet, and others) have been outspoken about demeaning working conditions and pay, lack of support for staff, and the poor quality of care they are able to provide as a result. Clients of these agencies also regularly complain about their treatment by the agencies, not least because the providers regularly call on police and lean heavily on coercive interventions such as involuntary hospitalization and forced psychiatric medication.

Non-profit executives, police, and politicians all play the same language games, slapping trendy labels like “trauma-informed” and “peer-based” on the same old institutional, coercive, profit-driven models of care. Referring to social service agencies as “community organizations” is a deception designed to distract from the fact that these agencies’ only real customer is the state. The product they offer: providing “care” in the cheapest possible way with no regard for the human costs.

Q: What about domestic violence? These calls are dangerous for responders and police are helpful in these situations.

A: If survivors choose to call the police as their strategy to be safe, we honor that choice. We must also acknowledge that most victims of abuse never call the police. Why not?

  • Because police don’t stop abuse. Most often victims’ primary goal is not to have their abusive partner arrested–it’s to have them stop abusing them. When police do arrest an abuser, they are usually sent right back home and forced to attend and pay for coercive therapy programs. If abusers are jailed, the cycle of harm is perpetuated setting the stage for more trauma and more abuse later.
  • Because police harm survivors. Survivors of abuse are often accused of crime by police, and they are often abused or assaulted by police. Calling the police also means that DCF is going to get involved in your family, with a likely result that you will lose custody of your children and suffer additional punitive sanctions or prison. This system of family policing regularly punishes mothers for “failing to protect” their children from their abusive partners.

Co-response programs do not address these harms. In order to help the majority of victims who are not calling for help right now, we need a completely different framework–one that offers justice for victims and stops the cycles of harm that lead to abuse in the first place. Policing and incarceration play a central role in that cycle of harm and abuse. We do not claim that non-police crisis response programs like CAHOOTS are a clear fix for domestic violence emergencies, either. The message from survivor advocates is clear: there is no easy fix, no one-size-fits-all solution for helping survivors, but we have to aim to reduce harm. For this reason we cannot let policing and prison solutions be the focus of our responses to abuse.

Further reading

Greenfield PD 101

The Mayor and Greenfield Police Department issued fear-mongering public statements as they continue to avoid dealing with the egregious misconduct brought to light in the Buchanan & Dodge vs. City of Greenfield lawsuit. This is a great time to share what we know about the Greenfield Police Department–how they spend their time, how they spend our money, and what kind of shenanigans they would rather forget we know about.

How GPD spends their time

Last year we analyzed GPD’s press logs to get a better idea of how they spend their time and what our community’s needs are. Here’s what we found:

As Acting Chief Gordon mentioned in the Recorder, GPD handles around 32,000 calls per year. However, over 90% of these calls have nothing to do with crime–not even allegations of 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.

Many, many calls are asking for help with relationship issues and addiction and substance use issues. These calls are not appropriate for the police. The city can and should do better with helping people know who they can call for appropriate help.

Many of the highest paid city employees are police, and many of them make well over $100k base salary, even without bonuses and stipends. Police are way too expensive to assign them to non-emergencies.

Greenfield has very little crime. Nationwide, crime of all kinds, but especially violent crime, is down from its peak in the 1990s. But crime in Greenfield has declined more than the national average. Arrests are down 80% from a peak in the year 2000. The peak was 1,426 arrests in 2000, while GPD only made 265 arrests in 2020. Of those arrests, the large majority are minor offenses:

Here’s how these arrests break down in 2020:

  • 185 arrests, or 70% were for low-level offenses.
  • 10 arrests were for property crimes.
  • 24 arrests were for drug violations (“crimes against society”).
  • Only 46 arrests were for crimes against person, 3/4 of which were for simple assault.
  • 11 out of 265 arrests were for “violent crime” (aggravated assault and sexual assault). That’s 4% of arrests.

A full 70% of arrests are for low-level offenses. These are exactly the kind of offenses that are used by police to justify street-level harassment of houseless people and people of color.

According to the fear-mongering press release and Facebook post by GPD, the police will have to focus on their “core mission,” presumably meaning responding to violence. Maybe if they actually do that, houseless people won’t be harassed by the cops as much.

And maybe, just maybe, traffic stops for “Driving While Black” will finally go down.