Amherst creates 2 depts. to improve community safety and equity


Staff Writer
Published: 12/14/2021 4:19:54 PM
Modified: 12/14/2021 4:19:19 PM

AMHERST — Two new municipal departments, both of which will be focused on improving community safety and equity for all residents and dismantling systemic racism, can begin serving Amherst in the coming weeks.

The Town Council voted unanimously Monday to establish the Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service agency, or CRESS, and the Diversity Equity and Inclusion office.

CRESS will have eight unarmed civilian responders who will go to certain calls, otherwise handled by police, that don’t involve violence or serious crime. These multiracial teams, with expertise in cultural awareness, respect and responsiveness, are expected to handle calls involving mental health issues, homelessness and substance abuse, and also deal with matters such as trespassing, truancy and wellness checks.

The department, which will also have a director and an assistant director, has an estimated full-year operating cost of $936,000. The town is supporting this with a $450,000 Department of Public Health grant, $200,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act and $200,000 reallocated from the Police Department.

The Diversity Equity and Inclusion office is intended to develop a strategic plan advancing a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture for the town and establish priorities that provide opportunities to build diversity and inclusive practices into the town’s operations. The will include a director, who will also serve as the town’s human rights director, and an assistant director, with the $163,000 in salaries covered by reallocating spending from the vacant economic development director position, transitioning an assistant in the town manager’s office to the new role, and using additional ARPA funds.

Before the vote, At-Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke said CRESS will work with police officers and firefighters for the betterment of the town. She also offered thanks to the Community Safety Working Group for rethinking community safety, to Town Manager Paul Bockelman for pursuing the initiative, and to police officers, who she said have been asked to do far more than enforce laws.

“We should have never put the burden of being social workers and mental health care providers on the APD,” Hanneke said. “The CRESS agency will permit Amherst to provide these services even better.”

The votes followed a recommendation from the Town Services and Outreach Committee, which met with Bockelman Dec. 9, and a favorable report from the Finance Committee.

In its report, the Finance Committee calls both departments “an opportunity for Amherst to be a leader and take actions that promise to benefit the entire town” and noted how important they will be for Black, Indigenous and people of color residents.

“It will help address concerns of the BIPOC community and all those at risk and in need of crisis responses due to their income, family situation, mental health and other mitigating factors,” the Finance Committee wrote.

But the committee also noted that there will be financial challenges, and its members are anticipating a $500,000 to $1 million deficit in the operating budget by fiscal year 2025 as a result of the new spending. To sustain the departments, the town will need to find money. “Identified new revenues to support the Amherst innovative effort will require intense efforts on multiple fronts,” the committee wrote.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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