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.

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