Editorial: Northampton’s ammo fiasco

  • Samples of ammunitions made by American Precision Ammunition in Mineral Wells, Texas, Tuesday, July 10, 2018. DALLAS MORNING NEWS VIA TNS/Jae S. Lee

Published: 1/23/2019 1:00:10 AM

Like any city, Northampton is always trying to find ways to save money and keep down costs for taxpayers, whether it’s health care, school supplies or utilities. Running a city is an expensive and complex business, especially in Northampton with its approximately $112 million budget. 

As Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz stated in his most recent budget message, the city’s latest spending plan marks a “key turning point” in the city’s multiyear fiscal stability plan that he implemented with taxpayer support five years ago.

“That plan,” he wrote, was created in conjunction with a $2.5 million general override approved by Northampton voters in 2013 and used a portion of new property tax revenues “to maintain city and school services while stockpiling the remainder in a restricted fund to be used only for stabilizing our finances as needed in future years.”

Given all that long-range planning, taxpayer commitment and money management, one would think that every dollar counts. But does it?

When Walmart decided to gift the city’s police department $13,000 in ammunition in December, it was no longer about the money. The corporate giant, which stopped selling ammunition at the North King Street store, ultimately withdrew its donation after the City Council balked at accepting the gift and referred it to committee, a move Narkewicz described as “unprecedented.” 

The city’s police officers could have used the ammunition for their required firearms training in the shooting range at the police station on Center Street that city taxpayers funded years ago — training that also teaches officers when and when not to use their weapons. Some of the types of ammunition from Walmart that police do not use was to be turned over to the Massachusetts State Police for destruction. 

The now-lost donation sparked a range of strong opinions, with one resident in the council chambers calling Walmart an “arms dealer” and city police “violence workers,” while another resident described the council’s hesitation to accept the ammunition as a “gutless referral to committee” and “asinine.”

Six of nine city councilors voted to send the donation to a committee for review, prompting the mayor to say he regretted even accepting the gift. In doing so, Ward 7 City Councilor Alisa Klein requested an inventory of the police department’s ammunition supplies to determine whether the donation was necessary from “a somewhat questionable corporation.” At-Large City Councilor William H. Dwight stated that he did not want to help Walmart to “pad their books” with a potential tax write-off. 

A Gazette review of the Police Department’s ammunition supply over the last seven years showed that costs never exceeded $20,000 a year and in many years was below $10,000. The spending record suggests that Walmart’s planned donation, while at retail value, would have most certainly been a boost to the NPD’s ammunition supply. As Police Chief Jody Kasper put it, the gift of ammunition “does nothing but save the city money.” 

Through it all, an undercurrent emerged in the debate over the ammo, or what both Narkewicz and Kasper described as an “anti-police narrative” that is impacting morale in the NPD. As Kasper put it in a letter after Walmart pulled its donation, “If this continues without support for NPD from the City Council, we will continue to lose our valuable veteran officers and will not be able to attract new candidates who meet the high standards expected by our community members.” 

In our view, this divide is as troubling as the council’s hesitation to accept Walmart’s donation, which it should have done in the interest of the city it serves, regardless of how one feels about the corporation. The relationship between the city’s police officers and the public is one that everyone in Northampton needs to pay attention to and address. One idea floated by former city councilor Jesse Adams seems worth exploring: a police-community relations board made up of members of the police department, local officials and the public.  

In the meantime, the Northampton Police Department, which is among the most progressive in the state, is going to continue to buy ammunition and provide firearms training for its officers. And it is going to do so with real taxpayer money.




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