Northampton council backs police alternative, pressures mayor to act

  • Northampton Police Station

Staff Writer
Published: 5/7/2021 7:02:06 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The City Council threw its support behind the recommendations of the city’s Policing Review Commission on Thursday, adopting a resolution that urges Mayor David Narkewicz to establish a Department of Community Care this fiscal year and take other steps recommended by the commission.

“The community deserves our feedback. We didn’t really get a chance to do that at the presentation,” said Ward 7 councilor Rachel Maiore, referring to the final report the commission presented to the council in late March. “I really feel like those who served so thoughtfully and tirelessly on the commission deserve no less as well.”

The resolution boils down to “we commend the commissioners and support their recommendations,” said Ward 1 Councilor Michael Quinlan, a member of the policing commission who co-sponsored the resolution with Maiore.

Narkewicz said Friday he is taking the commission’s recommendations under advisement as he creates a budget for fiscal 2022, which begins on July 1. The mayor is expected to present the budget to the council later this month. The council can only approve or reject the budget and particular line items, not create them.

The Department of Community Care would be independent of the police and respond to some nonviolent calls with unarmed responders. The commission called for the department to be funded starting next fiscal year.

When asked if he planned to appropriate funding for a new department, Narkewicz said that the policing commission’s recommendations will be part of his budget. “But in terms of specifics of appropriations, that’s something I will discuss when I formally present the budget and submit my budget message,” he said.

The resolution as first proposed said the council supported putting the department under the Board of Health and funding it with at least $882,602 next fiscal year, the amount the Police Department’s budget was reduced during the current fiscal year.

Both those lines, which recommended in the commission’s report, were taken out of the resolution with amendments. Councilors changed the language to say it advocated that the new department be outside of the Police Department, and instead of a specific amount of funding, the final resolution asked that the department be funded with “a meaningful investment that would assure viability.”

Councilors allowed commission chair Dan Cannity and member Javier Luengo-Garrido to speak during the discussion.

“The most important recommendation of the commission is the creation of a department that’s accountable to those it serves,” Luengo-Garrido said.

“The ultimate goal of this report: reduce the footprint of police,” Cannity said. “Reducing their contact. That’s what reduces the likelihood of extrajudicial killings. It reduces the racist impacts of policing on marginalized communities.” He added that alternative supports then need to be funded.

In addition to the new department, some other recommendations in the commission’s report included changes to policies such as how internal affairs investigations are handled, and an evaluation of the department’s staffing levels.

All councilors except one voted to pass the resolution. Ward 4’s John Thorpe said he supports reform and the commission’s work, “but I’m also going to abstain from voting on this resolution because I do not think we know enough to call upon the mayor to adopt a lot of these specific proposals,” he said.

Maiore suggested that the council take both a first and second reading of the resolution at the meeting — as required to fully endorse a resolution — because budget season is approaching.

At-large councilor Bill Dwight did not feel it was necessary.

“The idea is to entreat the mayor to proceed with all due urgency and deliberation towards presenting in his budget something that will show commitment to these recommendations,” he said. “I think he got that message.”

The discussion and vote came after three hours of public comment. More than 200 people attended the meeting, and many spoke about the resolution and about policing and public safety generally.

Resident Aaron Clark expressed support for the resolution backing the Policing Review Commission and asked that the council cut the police budget by 50% and reallocate the funds to public safety alternatives. “This is not new. Black communities have been calling for an end to police terror and violence for well over 150 years,” Clark said.

Mimi Odgers, and many others who spoke, agreed.

“Mr. Mayor, I specifically implore you to make creating the Department of Community Care your number one priority before you leave office,” Odgers said. Narkewicz is not running for reelection this fall.

Booker Bush, a member of the Policing Review Commission, said the group “never stated that we want to defund the police by 50%. As a matter of fact, I don’t think you’ll find the word defund in anything that the Northampton Policing Commission report finally said.”

One resident who did not give her name said she wants to see more funding for the police and said she didn’t support a new department.

Josh Wallace, a Northampton police officer who is president of the union that represents patrol officers, thanked the commission for its work.

“The community members are our customers, and if we don’t pursue the challenges of being better guardians of our community then we become stagnant and less effective in our service to our community,” he said.

Although he recognized the challenge for police, Wallace said the commission was “diverse in many ways — except for their views of police in general.” He added, “We ask that the City Council take this report on its face as a biased view of policing in general and not an accurate depiction of the Police Department.”

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