Ammo gift sparks robust debate in Northampton council chambers

  • Walmart is donating ammunition to the Northampton Police Department.  DALLAS MORNING NEWS VIA TNS/JAE S. LEE 

Staff Writer
Published: 12/22/2018 12:17:03 AM

NORTHAMPTON – A gift of ammunition from Walmart to the Northampton Police Department received some significant pushback from the public before the Northampton City Council on Thursday, and then a debate followed involving city councilors and the mayor.

Eventually, the council voted 6-3 to send consideration of the gift to the council’s city services committee, a decision the mayor characterized as unprecedented. The decision was supported by councilors William Dwight, Alisa Klein, Maureen Carney, Ryan O’Donnell, Marianne LaBarge, and Gina-Louise Sciarra. Councilors James Nash, David Murphy and Dennis Bidwell voted against a subcommittee review.

“I’m frankly regretting that I even agreed to accept the gift,” said the mayor.

The gift of about $13,000 in ammunition from the Walmart on North King Street was submitted before the council for approval. The Northampton Walmart no longer sells ammunition and is seeking to donate its entire stock to the Northampton Police Department. Some of the ammunition cannot be used by the NPD and would be sent to the State Police for destruction.

Northampton attorney Dana Goldblatt was one of the people who spoke against the gift and characterized Walmart as an “arms dealer.”

“We should be able to say fewer police, fewer guns, less ammo, and somehow we can’t,” Goldblatt said.

City resident Amy Bookbinder also urged rejection of the gift, saying that consideration of the gift was “almost as bad” as the decision to allow the Northampton Police Department to go to Arizona to train under Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

City resident Andrew Smith spoke in favor of funding tactical gear for police earlier in the year, but he said he opposes the Walmart gift because the idea of the city facilitating a corporate tax write-off for the retailer does not sit well with him. “Do us a solid,” Smith said. “Just don’t take it.”

Narkewicz noted that police have a shooting range in the basement of the police station where officers train, a range that was constructed with funding approved by the City Council

“We are going to buy ammunition for training,” Narkewicz said. “This is a gift that we can use to supplement those supplies.”

Narkewicz said part of the training also involves teaching police when and when not to use their weapons.

Prior to the council meeting, Ward 7 Councilor Alisa Klein submitted an information request to the mayor asking for an inventory of the police department’s ammunition supplies, its costs over the last five years, and an accounting of purchases of ammunition in this time. In a written reply, Narkewicz invoked the city charter and asked that the request be submitted through a vote of the full council.

Narkewicz stated in his letter that he normally answers information requests from councilors informally. However, he said was invoking the charter because he felt that Klein’s request, and the time it would take to fulfill it, goes beyond what is required to make a decision on the acceptance of a gift of personal property.

“Frankly, I also believe the request conveys a lack of trust in and support for our police department feeding into a broader anti-police narrative that has seriously impacted the morale of NPD and its ability to recruit and retain officers,” Narkewicz wrote.

Klein read the letter aloud at the council meeting and took issue with the mayor’s assessment.

“I think it’s an appropriate and necessary inquiry,” she said, saying that the request was to determine the need for a donation from a “somewhat questionable corporation.”

She also said that the inquiry was meant to help determine whether the donation would help offset the police’s budget.

The mayor said the city accepts donations from corporations all of the time, and that he felt that the police were being singled out.

“What standard are we holding the police department to?” he asked.

Councilor At-Large William Dwight said that he had an issue with Walmart getting to write-off as a donation the value of the ammunition that will be destroyed.

“I just don’t want to be the enabling agency that allows Walmart to pad their books,” Dwight said.

This was also a concern for councilor Ward 2 Councilor Dennis Bidwell, who requested that the city only accept as a donation the ammunition the police would actually use, a course of action which councilor Ward 6 Councilor Marianne LaBarge backed as well.

“I can certainly do that,” said the mayor, on asking the chief to separate out the portions of the donation that will be used for training.

Ward 3 Councilor Gina-Louise Sciarra said that while she wished Walmart was donating something else, this is something the city would buy normally.

“Not from Walmart,” the mayor added.

Ward 5 Councilor David Murphy said that if the donation is not accepted it would either go to the Hadley Walmart to be sold or donated to another department.

“It’s going somewhere,” he said.

While the mayor strenuously objected to sending the donation to committee, a motion that was made by Klein, City Council President Ryan O’Donnell saw it differently.

“Discussing something is not a punitive measure. Not to me,” O’Donnell said.

He also said that the conversation would be focused on the donation, and not be a larger conversation on the police. This, however, was disputed by Bidwell.

“We know how these conversations proceed,” he said.

The ammunition gift is expected to be discussed at the council’s committee on city services’ next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 7.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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