Upcoming events

Two upcoming events on reshaping public safety and responding to community needs:

This event has been postponed! New date TBD.

We’ve had some complications with scheduling in the space for an in-person event. Keep an eye out for a new date!

  • Join us for a community teach-in on CAHOOTS on Tuesday, July 6, at 7-8:30pm, at the Wildflower Alliance, 20 Chapman St., Greenfield and online via Zoom. RSVP here for Zoom link!
  • NOTE: Wildflower Alliance can host max. 10 people in their Greenfield space, so if you have the ability to join by Zoom, that will help keep the event accessible for others.

CAHOOTS is a publicly-funded, peer-based crisis response program, running since 1989 in Oregon. They dispatch a two-person team of a medic and a crisis worker and “deliver person-centered interventions and make referrals to behavioral health supports and services without the uniforms, sirens, and handcuffs that can exacerbate feelings of distress for people in crisis.”

Programs based on CAHOOTS are starting up in Northampton and Amherst and all over the country. At the teach-in, we’ll talk with folks from Franklin and Hampshire counties about this great program.

Come learn with us!
Hosted by the Greenfield People’s Budget

More about CAHOOTS and RSVP here for Zoom link.

  • On July 26 Racial Justice Rising hosts Queen-Cheyenne Wade of The Black Response to talk about the HEART Program, a community effort to reshape public safety and policing in Cambridge, Mass. We’ll share more details as soon as they’re available.

Reality of policing lurks behind ideology claims

Both the Recorder and Reporter featured debate on the policing review committees established by the Montague town meeting. Jon wrote an op-ed in reply, published last week.

In his op-ed “Ideology Masks Reality of Policing in Montague,” Jeff Singleton chides Deborah Frenkel and Maddox Sprengel for being dissatisfied with the final reports of the policing review committees, of which they were members. Sadly, we have every reason to be dissatisfied with the outcome of these committees, not because of confounding “ideology” but because they misinterpreted the basic critiques that motivated a policing review in the first place.

The central issue is not what most people think of the police, but what effect policing has on the people who actually have to deal with them. Given how much effort and public resources the police put into polishing their public image, and given the great personal risks that people take on if they speak out publicly against the police, the only people who are likely to know what harms the police actually cause are people who are subject to enforcement, or people who are close to them.

The people who get the most unwanted contact with police are people without housing, people living in poverty, people who are neurodivergent, and people of color. Some individuals from these groups have positive opinions of the police, but that reveals nothing about larger patterns of oppression caused by policing.

The most relevant perspectives on these issues come from people who have been harmed by policing, and their perspectives are the hardest to get. Gross power imbalances mean that folks who have suffered harms are often afraid to share their experiences publicly, and it is in fact dangerous for them to do so. A casual, amateur survey will never suffice and will likely do more harm than good. That does not mean that we can never know anything about policing.

Here’s what we know beyond a doubt, based on decades of study by the most impacted communities. Policing does not prevent crime or conflicts or personal crises–they show up after the fact and file a report. Police spend a tiny fraction of their time responding to reports of crime (read the police logs for yourself–on average it’s 1-4% of their time). Police spend huge amounts of time responding to emergency calls that have nothing to do with crime at all, unnecessarily exposing countless people to the criminal legal system and all the harms that can come as a consequence. In the rare case that the police stop an act of harm or violence, they simply shunt it into the world’s largest criminal legal system–a set of violent, punishing institutions that only compound harm.

All the talk about police de-escalation practices misses the fact that the mere presence of police is an escalation for people who have good reason to fear them. This is true even when a co-responder clinician is present, especially since people are rightly afraid of being involuntarily committed to a psych ward or getting referred to the Department of Children and Families.

Police killings of Black people mark the flashpoints that lead to large-scale protest, but Black Lives Matter as a movement is about much more than police use of force. The movement is fundamentally about valuing people as people, which goes beyond merely not killing them. It requires reducing harm in all its forms and building new institutions that really take care of people. (See the “Movement for Black Lives policy platform” if you haven’t yet.)

We need new institutions for community safety because reforms to the police do not work. None of the proposed oversight, training, or relationship-building reforms on offer are new or promising in any way. Minneapolis had already implemented most of these measures, even as far back as the 1920s, and yet that did nothing to save George Floyd.

The quickest, most effective way to reduce the harm policing causes is to reduce people’s contact with police. One way to do that is by building alternative programs to deal with emergencies.

How could we respond to emergencies in a way that’s actually caring, that respects people’s basic rights and freedoms, but also successfully resolves the emergency? One compelling example is CAHOOTS, a peer-led crisis response program running for 32 years in two cities in Oregon. Their civilian crisis workers get people the care they need in a manner they can trust, rejecting coercive and punitive approaches in favor of meeting basic needs and offering trauma-informed, person-centered care. They are highly successful and beloved in their communities.

In their service area, CAHOOTS handles 20% of 911 calls, although the Center for American Progress estimates they could easily handle 38% if they had proper funding and support. (Another large share of 911 calls are merely procedural or paperwork issues which could be handled by a non-sworn city employee–for example, filing reports for auto insurance claims.)

In personal correspondence with me, Ariel Elan of the policing review committee said she concluded CAHOOTS would be too expensive, that Montague’s finances could not afford both a police department and a program like CAHOOTS.

It is true that police departments are notoriously expensive. However, there is money available from the federal stimulus as well as the state of Massachusetts earmarked for starting up new CAHOOTS-like programs. We have organizations in Franklin County that are internationally recognized leaders in peer support work who could help build a new program, but they are too often overlooked in favor of big bureaucratic providers like CSO (who provide the clinician for the new police co-responder program). We also have a growing region-wide movement for building up life-affirming programs that offer real safety to everyone.

If it’s hard to imagine Montague implementing a new program alone, that’s no excuse to give up and keep cycling people through probation, jail, coercive treatment programs, houselessness, unemployment, personal crisis. Let’s talk across towns about how to build capacity together.

Wildflower Alliance: Open Letter to the Mayor of Northampton

We’re sharing this recent letter from the Wildflower Alliance to Mayor Narkewicz of Northampton, not only because it highlights the wealth of experience and wisdom that local peer-led groups have for building safer, healthier communities, but also because the debates they’re addressing from Northampton are the same ones we’re having here in Greenfield. Originally posted on their own website.

May 19, 2021

To Mayor David Narkewicz:

We are writing this open letter to you from the Wildflower Alliance (formerly known as the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community or ‘RLC’) in regards to Northampton’s efforts to identify alternatives to policing, and reimagine the ways in which the city responds to its residents in distress. We are a peer-to-peer organization with our roots firmly planted in Western Massachusetts. By ‘peer-to-peer’ we mean that our entire team – including senior leadership – have all faced and navigated life-interrupting struggles, and are now using the wisdom gained from those experiences to support others. ‘Others’ include those who are struggling themselves, as well as providers, family members, and beyond.

Although our roots are local, our work has grown to include statewide, national, and international impact. In fact, our Northampton-based peer respite, Afiya (an alternative to psychiatric hospitalization), is set to be recognized in a June report from the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of about 30 exemplary, human-rights-based programs in the world. We also developed and piloted an approach called ‘Alternatives to Suicide’ over a decade ago starting with a group in Northampton, and have since trained people in that approach across this nation and in at least eight other countries. Additionally, our work includes providing the bulk of Hearing Voices Movement trainings in the United States, as well as efforts to support people in local psychiatric units (including Cooley Dickinson) to transition successfully back to community-based living. 

It is through these experiences that we have become so deeply invested in the value of supporting people in many different forms of distress, and have reached the point where we feel we can speak with confidence on the matter of how to respond to individuals experiencing “crisis” in our communities. We are especially invested in supporting people in ways that do not add to their trauma or escalate challenging moments, for, in the words of Pat Deegan (another Massachusetts resident and longtime advocate for effective support), “Help isn’t help if it doesn’t help.” Too often, we have seen or heard stories of disabled folks and people with psychiatric labels (particularly those who are Black, indigenous, or other people of color) being further harmed and even killed by those systems that are supposed to be responsible for helping. We are well past time for change, and appreciate your efforts toward that end. 

Members of our team have closely followed the creation and work of the Northampton Policing Review Commission this past year. We implore you to consider our input as you craft a budget for Fiscal Year 2022. Specifically, we ask that you:

  1. Ensure (as the Reimagining Safety report states) that the Department of Community Care is accountable to and envisioned by communities most impacted by policing. Unfortunately, similar statewide committees have been overpopulated by individuals who are least invested in change and/or least familiar with what change could look like. Those who have spent years working in the systems we seek to move away from will inevitably have difficulty envisioning something new, even if they have the best of intentions. They also will – in most cases – have been protected from the most harmful impacts of how those systems were run, and are least likely to know what it is like to feel powerless over their own life. We ask that you make every effort to not repeat the mistake of centering voices that have already been centered for so long.
  2. Recognize that a co-responder model that partners police and social workers (or other mental health counselors) fails to address the core issues at hand, and has been demonstrated to be ineffective at making substantive change in how communities respond to crisis over the long-term.  When social workers and police join in these ways, social workers are more likely to pick up police-like ways of responding than the reverse. Furthermore, social workers (particularly those tied to large clinical organizations) are well known for their over-reliance on calling 911, and their use of force and coercion on individuals in distress. As stated in the prior bullet, after being entrenched in one way of doing things for so long, even those with the best of intentions can fail to be able to fully envision a new way of doing things.
  3. Draw upon the local wisdom and practices of peer-led responses to people in distress to fund new peer-led emergency responses.  We strongly advocate that money cut from the Northampton Police Department be invested in peer-led responses operated wholly separately from the police, as well as from social workers and other clinical providers. We have the opportunity to create something new that centers healing responses, minimizes harmful power imbalances that tend to deepen emotional distress, and incorporates critical learning from a host of projects across the nation.  You can even listen to or watch this event recording from April of this year for more inspiration: tiny.cc/peerled101.  Please don’t miss this opportunity.
  4. Ensure adequate funding to the Department of Community Care. Many efforts of this nature are never given the opportunity to be fully realized for lack of funding. It is essential to the success of this effort that individuals working to implement and operate it are paid in a manner that encourages their longevity, and affords them the opportunity to live in the community they are serving. Anything less will inevitably mean we will never find out what truly could have been possible.
  5. Reverse increased spending on the Northampton Police Department to more fully fund the Department of Community Care and other non-police responses.

This is a critical moment in time. Whatever you implement is likely to be what we have to live with for years to come. It is much harder to stop or change what has been set in motion than to take the time to ensure it is pointed in the right direction from the start. Again, we so appreciate the time devoted by yourself and so many others in the area, and we remain hopeful about the potential that is at hand.

On behalf of the Wildflower Alliance,

Sera Davidow
Director, Wildflower Alliance

Monday update: Response to Chief Haigh’s memo

Monday, May 17, two days before the council meeting, Chief Haigh sent a memo to councilors with more detailed description of the proposed construction along with a loose set of estimates for the work. Our position on the upgrades has not changed. We include Chief Haigh’s full memo below, but here is a brief summary of his request with our responses:

Chief Haigh proposes:

  • $20k for expanding the dispatch room
  • $120k for moving offices and adding skylights
  • $40k for a new fence
  • $300k for new individual, gender neutral showers
  • $290k for a new sally port
  • $250k for the parking lot
  • $400k for moving the existing covered parking
  • $160k for an architect
  • Total estimate: $1.76 million

Our response:

  • Chief Haigh has not been forthright in his claims about health and safety. He previously mentioned mold remediation and HVAC issues, as well as cell blocks that are in violation of state regulations. None of these issues appear here. Where are the health and safety issues in this list?
  • At $20k, expanding dispatch is the cheapest item in this list. Even if the $120k for moving offices and adding skylights are related to reconfiguring dispatch, $140k is a very small portion of the $1.76m requested here.
  • The million dollar sally port? Chief Haigh says that redoing the sally port means they will have to demolish and rebuild their existing 14-bay carport and redo the parking lot. Thus the sally port and booking room drive the bulk of this project, coming in at $940k. The current sally port is a metal carport with a leak in the roof. Does it cost $1 million to fix a roof leak? When the majority of this expense is for moving around other things that already exist and work fine, is this the smartest way to fix a small problem?
  • The sally port estimate does refer to reconfiguring the booking room entrance, as well, which Chief Haigh has mentioned is a safety concern. If it costs only $20k to expand dispatch, why spend $1 million to expand the booking room?
  • Too little information, too late. Chief Haigh has had a month since the last council meeting to provide this information, and he has only delivered this minimal description two days before the final vote. Furthermore, he originally presented this capital request last fall. Shouldn’t he have acquired more detailed estimates of the work before submitting the capital request?
  • Lack of clarity and consistency. Why has the narrative changed so much over the months–from an additional women’s locker room, to a complete reconfiguration of the showers? Beyond the booking room, what happened to the health and safety concerns? Which of these proposals are driven by accreditation?

This memo does nothing to convince us that these changes are urgent needs rather than a wish list. After a year of a crushing recession and pandemic, we want to see our tax dollars go where they are needed. As we have said before:

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.

Memo from Chief Haigh to the City Council:

Good Day All,

Below you will find an estimate and break down of beginning cost estimates for part of the revitalization of the Greenfield Police Department.  I worked with a local contractor and a separate local architect, and together they gave me estimates.  I wish to caution, these are estimates, and was done voluntarily, and will have to be more specific after gained support to move forward with this project.  Additionally, both advised that depending on the material such as steal or wood, the costs could be more or less at the time of construction.  I walked the property with both separately to speak of our needs, and my thoughts, and then they collaborated together resulting in the following:

    1. A 3600 square foot two car garage, in masonry stone, with one side for secure holding with a new entrance into the booking area for safety:  $290k

    2. An 8 foot security fence at 600 ft to enclose and secure the rear of the building: $40k

    3. New blacktop and restructuring regarding of the parking lot which will be needed for the new garage, and the moving and rebuilding of the covered parking: $250k

    4. A rebuilt 14 bay carport, which will have to be demoed and moved due to new garage and parking configuration, also containing storage: $400k

    5. To move the offices in the back into a room in the center of the building, with skylights for natural light as there are no windows, and need to be moved to accommodate the new bathrooms: $120k

    6. To create 5 separate gender neutral changing/shower/bathrooms to allow for shared general gender neutral locker rooms: $300k

    7. Cost for architect: $160k

    8. To knock the wall down and open up dispatch room: $20k

Total Cost: $1.76 M

While I realize this is over the asking for Capital, these are the projects I was proposing for phase 1.  I will need to speak with hired architects to determine priorities.


Robert Haigh

Call to Action: Reject the Police Station Upgrades

Dear friends and neighbors:

Last month, the Greenfield City Council postponed the vote on whether to fund the first installment of $5 million in police station upgrades. They will issue a final vote on the upgrades at their upcoming meeting on May 19. We urge residents to speak up and let the council know they should reject the proposed upgrades.

**UPDATE: Chief Haigh submitted a more detailed memo to councilors on Monday, May 17. This memo does not change our position on the upgrades–it only raises additional issues. See our blog post for details and our response.

What you can do

Tell the city council to reject the upgrades. 

The most effective comments usually include 1) who you are, 2) why this issue matters, and 3) what the city council should do. See our talking points below for help in preparing your personal statement, but it’s also good to tell your own story about why this matters to you. You don’t need to share the level of detail given below in order to have an impact. (Please note that this debate is over a capital budget item (infrastructure, buildings), not operations (programs and departments), and money can’t be moved between those two categories.)

  • Email or call city councilors and tell them to reject the upgrades.
  • Speak during public comment at the next meeting, Wednesday, May 19, at 5:30pm (note the earlier time). Attend the meeting over Webex (in your browser) or call in. You can sign up to comment any time before the end of the public comment period. Everyone will get 3 minutes maximum to speak, so prepare your statement ahead of time. 
  • If you can’t make the meeting or want to make anonymous comment, contact us and we will try to read your comment during the meeting.
  • Write a letter to the editor and send it to the Recorder. Maximum length is 300 words. Let’s open up the debate in the wider community!
  • Share this call to action with your friends and neighbors.

Why the City Council should reject the upgrades

Here’s a summary, followed by detailed explanations of each point:

  1. The proposed upgrades are expensive and a bad investment of city funds.
  2. There has been no transparency and no opportunity for real debate.
  3. Most of the proposed upgrades are more of a wish list than urgent needs, and many of the upgrades seem unnecessary or poorly thought-out.
  4. If Chief Haigh has identified actual health and safety hazards, he needs to provide information on these hazards so the town can make good decisions to take care of employees’ health. He has not provided this information. **Update: Chief Haigh’s more detailed list of upgrades from May 17 does not include many of the health hazards he has casually mentioned in various discussions. See our blog update for details.
  5. The proposed police station upgrades will take up resources that could otherwise go to more urgent needs.
  6. We want an opportunity for the community to shape new programs that actually meet our needs, not more of the same old status quo.
  7. The city must pause these extensive upgrades.

The proposed upgrades are expensive and a bad investment of city funds.

  • The cost of building materials has gone way up, including lumber, steel, and concrete. This price spike means that building costs are going to be much higher than expected, and not only for the police station. Current prices threaten major cost overruns on the new fire station and library, neither of which have broken ground yet. These cost overruns could put significant pressure on city finances and tax rates if we are already spending near our limits based on current revenue.
  • Chief Haigh proposes $5 million in renovations on a police station building that is only valued at $820,000. It makes no sense to try to retrofit an old building at great cost only to get a few more years of use out of it. If the current station is inadequate, we should plan on addressing urgent concerns only and save our money for a proper building when we can afford to build new, and only after we have had a chance to discuss what we want community safety to look like in the near future.

There has been no transparency and no opportunity for real debate.

  • Chief Haigh’s original proposal contained no detailed information and no line items. As we have previously pointed out, every other department that requested capital expenditures included detailed line items even for much smaller amounts.
  • The Chief and the Mayor have ignored requests for more information, even from councilors. The Chief and the Mayor have not adequately responded to the many concerns we raised in our public comment at the council meeting, in our follow-up public statement, or in personal communication.
  • The timeline for public comment means there is no opportunity for genuine debate. The public was not allowed to respond to various claims made during the April council meeting, and it’s unlikely that we will get to see any further information with any significant lead time before the meeting on May 19. Councilors have been busy with budget meetings, and even they have not been provided an update from the Chief. The upcoming meeting will allow public comment, but only before the debate on the station upgrades–in other words, we will not be allowed to respond to any issues or spurious claims that come up in that debate. Given the importance of this issue and the level of concern which residents have expressed about these expensive upgrades, it is absolutely not acceptable to foreclose genuine debate.
  • The Chief has not been forthright in his characterization of the upgrades and has avoided the real issues we have raised. Chief Haigh has not made any effort to justify his claims of health and safety issues, but rather retreated to claims that opponents want to “punish the police.” He has also repeatedly referred to MPAC accreditation as requiring us to pay for particular upgrades, while never specifying which upgrades affect accreditation or why accreditation should guide our spending in the first place. (As we have said previously, accreditation does not equal actual accountability–as proven by Springfield and Northampton’s departments. Accreditation is also optional.)

The proposed upgrades are more of a wish list than urgent needs, and many of the upgrades seem unnecessary or poorly thought-out.

  • Councilors have shared with us what they saw when they toured the police station and saw existing issues with the building.
  • If particular issues are health and safety concerns, Chief Haigh needs to detail the issues and provide estimates for remediation. For example, the Chief could easily acquire a free estimate for mold remediation, if that’s an issue. He has not provided this information, despite having an entire month since the last council meeting. We want to know what hazards exist so we can make good decisions and attend to city employees’ health. **UPDATE: Chief Haigh’s May 17 memo does not include any mention of mold, HVAC issues, or cell blocks, some of the primary health and safety hazards he has described in public forums. See our blog post for details.
  • If dispatch workers are housed in cramped quarters at the police station, they could be moved to the new fire station (a move suggested by the Lt. Fire Chief himself) and then their room would become available for communications hardware. This solution resolves two of the issues Chief Haigh says need urgent attention, but it has clearly not been considered.
  • A variety of other proposed upgrades seem unnecessary or excessive. Examples:
    • Two female locker rooms. Chief Haigh has touted the need for an additional female locker room now that there is one female officer and one female supervisor. What he has not said is that the GPD already has one female locker room, and the additional room would be to separate the supervisor and the officer. Is there a reason that two women can’t share a locker room?
    • Sally port. The sally port is a metal garage that covers the entrance for taking people into custody. The Chief has suggested that a leak in the roof of this carport is a problem, so the garage must be replaced with a permanent structure. It is easy to repair leaks in metal roofs, and (per the Chief’s comments in the Recorder) maybe a carport is not the place to store evidence that’s not weather-proof.
    • Parking lot resurfacing. We would like to know how re-oiling the parking lot qualifies as urgent.

The proposed police station upgrades will take up resources that could otherwise go to more urgent needs.

  • Other city buildings are in worse need of repair, including school buildings, the non-accessible Town Hall, and the neglected Sanderson Street complex which houses the Recreation Department and Building Inspector offices.
  • Urgent social and economic needs demand our attention: houselessness and affordable housing, mental and behavioral health crises, addiction, and so on. A police station renovated at great expense will not meet these needs. We are in the midst of a recession and a pandemic. We should be shifting our capital expenditures towards the infrastructure for a housing first program, a peer-based crisis response program, and other community support programs.

The city must pause these extensive upgrades.

The city government in Greenfield has not yet engaged in any way with current 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.

For additional background information, see our previous public statement in response to the debate at the April city council meeting.

Reminder: Panel tonight

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!

Response to April 21 City Council Meeting and Recorder Coverage

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

Executive Summary

  • 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.

We can take care of health and safety issues for city employees, but let’s wait on station upgrades until we have an idea of what public safety will look like in the near future.