My Turn and Action Alert

Action alert: Unfortunately, the Greenfield Recorder chose not to print our “My Turn” today, which dealt with the police station upgrade proposal to be approved at the Ways & Means committee meeting tonight. You can read it below, but it’s not too late to make a difference–you can call or email the committee and your councilor to let them know your opinion on the matter! Here’s what you can do:

  • URGENT: Reach out to members of the Ways and Means Committee (or email the whole council) BEFORE TONIGHT, WEDNESDAY APRIL 14 at 5:30pm, when they hold their FY2022 Capital Budget Meeting, urging them not to recommend the FY2022 appropriation of $1,350,000 for the Police Station Update & Reconfiguration. You can also attend the meeting, but they may or may not allow public comment.
  • Contact your city councilor (find them here), by phone or email, asking them to vote against the capital budget if it includes the police station renovation.  You can also email the whole council at
  • Show up to the April City Council meeting (when the capital budget will be voted on) on 4/21 at 7pm and voice your opposition to the FY2022 appropriation of $1,350,000 for the Police Station Update & Reconfiguration.
  • Share our My Turn widely!

$5 Million for Police Station?

Mayor Wedegartner and Chief Haigh propose $5 million in upgrades to the Greenfield police station. In the article they mention several reasons for the “necessary” upgrades, but questions remain whether this is a sound investment of our tax funds.

No one would begrudge our female police officers their own locker room, or windows for dispatch staff, or a safer booking room, or basic building repairs. Yet it’s hard to imagine how these changes add up to $5 million. Chief Haigh’s budget FY2021 letter cites “technology, safety consideration, and ever increasing accountability and services” as primary issues with the current station. Before we spend a lot of money on upgrading this station, we need to talk about the “ever increasing services” the city requires the police to provide.

Chart: Greenfield Police Department Press Logs, April 2019 – June 2020, sorted by call type, based on data provided by GPD. Chart prepared by the Coalition for a Greenfield People’s Budget.

The GPD call logs make it clear that most of what our police officers do is hardly police work (see chart). Greenfield is thankfully a community with very low crime: less than 1% of police calls involve reports of assault or violence, and only about 6% of calls involve supposed property crimes—including many mundane items like “caller’s wife took his debit card,” “two large pumpkins stolen off porch,” and “BLM sign stolen.” Two thirds of police calls fall into categories including assistance for residents (28.8%; for example, “person flagged down officer to ask relationship advice”), traffic matters (20.4%), hazards (5.3%; “tree down”), and alarms randomly going off (7.6%). Complaints (17%) and disputes (9%) include many calls like people dancing in Energy Park after hours, “intoxicated person advised to go to bed,” and 102 calls (over one year) from the same address about a mental health issue.

Residents turn to the police when they want help, and the level of need in our community adds a lot of work for our police department. We all value the fact that we have someone to call in a crisis, but there are two big problems here: first, police are not social workers, even if they’re friendly and concerned about many residents’ well-being. It’s ineffective and more dangerous for everyone when we make cops play the role of social workers. Second, it’s expensive to force a lot of social and civil issues onto the police department, and we see that reflected in the $5 million bill for station upgrades. Let’s give police officers a decent workplace, but Greenfield does not need to be gearing up some kind of “modern command center” when the needs in our community are mostly homelessness, substance abuse, mental health crises, and just struggling to make ends meet.

If those are the issues we’re facing, we need to build a non-coercive “housing first” program and house our neighbors who are living on the street. We need to pay our peer recovery coaches whose important work is mostly done for free. We need to fund our existing harm reduction programs better and decouple those programs from law enforcement and threats of punishment. We need civilian 911 response like CAHOOTS in Oregon, where medics and professional peer counselors respond to mental health emergencies. We need violence prevention programs that support the 80% of domestic abuse survivors whose cases never make it to a courtroom. These programs address the causes of harm and personal conflicts. They all require resources, but they’re much more effective and cost much less than throwing police at problems once a situation has already gone bad. We must join cities across the country, including our neighbors in Northampton and Brattleboro, and provide appropriate responses to the problems at hand.

Changes to city programs require buy-in from the community. A local group has started the process of making a People’s Budget for Greenfield, where residents come together, learn about the issues we’re facing, and come up with solutions that fit our community. After lots of public learning and discussion, we write a budget from the bottom up–one that’s rooted in our priorities and catered to our needs. Our city government should buy into this process and implement the budget that residents want, not one that favors fancy capital projects with limited benefits.

You can support the police department and still see we have needs they can’t meet. We have a responsibility to care for our neighbors, especially when this pandemic and the recession have made existing problems so much worse. Let’s come together and make some real change.

Jon Magee is a member of the Coalition for a Greenfield People’s Budget.

Upcoming events

Read the budget with us

Saturday, April 17, 5-7pm

Please join us for a casual group reading of the budget, preparing for our first community teach-in later in the spring. We’ll sort through what’s in the FY2021 budget and FY2022 budget and start raising questions. All are welcome, so if you’re interested in how Greenfield allocates resources, please come! RSVP here to get the Zoom link!

Resources to check out:

Panel discussion on Northampton Policing Review Commission & what it means for Greenfield

Tuesday, April 27, 6:30-8pm

Join us to discuss the work of the Northampton Policing Review Commission, which concluded its process and issued a final report on March 23. We’ll discuss how their work relates to public safety in Greenfield and our People’s Budget campaign. Panelists include Northampton commission members Josey Rosales of Northampton Abolition Now and Javier Luengo-Garrido of ACLU Massachusetts, as well as Calvin Moen of Wildflower Alliance and Marianna Ritchey of Greenfield People’s Budget. Read more about the commission and report at masslive or The Shoestring. RSVP here to get the Zoom link!

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