State kicks in $450K for Amherst police alternative

Staff Writer
Published: 10/27/2021 7:24:50 PM

AMHERST — Amherst’s unarmed community responder program, anticipated to launch in February as an alternative way to handle some emergency calls police currently go to, is receiving significant financial backing from the state.

Amherst officials announced this week that the state’s Department of Public Health Bureau of Community Health and Prevention is awarding the town a $449,949 Equitable Approaches to Public Safety grant, which will be used to boost the Community Response for Equity, Safety and Service program.

“The Amherst Town Council’s goal is to explore alternative options of providing services to respond to issues of homelessness, mental health, and other non-criminal calls to emergency dispatch,” Town Manager Paul Bockelman said in a statement.

The community responder program, or CRESS, arose out of intense work done by the Community Safety Working Group, led by members of the Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities, with recommendations aimed at promoting equity in policing and ensuring that the town’s diverse populations feel safe.

CRESS is similar to the Department of Community Care that’s being launched in Northampton.

Money from the state grant program, which also went to the cities of Revere, Lawrence and New Bedford and the town of Winthrop, will allow these communities to invest in alternative strategies to promote equitable public safety and public health outcomes, such as jail diversion, de-escalation specialists or implementing de-escalation training, behavioral health specialists or using other behavioral health supports, and training in evidence-based or evidence-informed mental health and substance use crisis response.

In Amherst, the grant includes funding for a project manager and mental health providers, as well as training, evaluation, and other related costs of the CRESS program. The municipal budget includes $130,000 to support community responder positions, a program director, and administrative expenses.

The working group’s recommendations envisioned $2.2 million in start-up costs for the program, an amount that would make it independent of police and emergency dispatching.

Bockelman credited Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and Rep. Mindy Domb. D-Amherst, for help in securing the grant.

“This award is a testament to the painstaking work of the BIPOC Community Safety Working Group,” Comerford said in a statement.

“The significance of Amherst receiving these funds reflects the CSWG’s extraordinary work and the value and impact of their recommendations,” Domb added.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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