Northampton City Council OKs tactical funding for police

@BeraDunau
Published: 3/16/2018 10:08:30 AM

NORTHAMPTON — The City Council on Thursday OK’d giving the police department $75,000 next fiscal year for protective and tactical gear and training, despite another round of fierce opposition during public comment time.

The appropriation, approved by an 8-1 vote on second reading with Ward 7 councilor Alisa Klein as the lone dissenter, is part of the city’s five-year capital improvement program.

The tactical funding has been used for trainings in the past, as well as items like ammunition, gas masks and less-lethal launchers. Tactical weapons, helmets and shields are some of the items that Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper said the money could be used for, though the appropriation is not earmarked for specific items.

In a letter to the council sent prior to the first reading, Kasper said that the majority of the items purchased would replace existing equipment.

One of the speakers at the second reading, Blair Gimma, took issue with some of the arguments made in favor of the appropriation at the previous meeting, including the likening of the appropriation by Councilor At-Large William Dwight to a ladder truck, in that it’s good to have it around even if it is rarely used.

“Ladders aren’t guns and firefighters aren’t cops,” Gimma said.

Attorney Dana Goldblatt urged the council to use the “power of the purse” to get information about police inventory and practices prior to passing the appropriation.

Pamela Schwartz, a former councilor, said that she was initially disturbed by what she considered to be the “demonization” of the Northampton Police. However, after studying the issue, Schwartz asked the council to hold off on approving the appropriation.

“I do think a pause is in order,” she said.

A number of people also suggested that the $75,000 could be used for other things, with the schools and Pioneer Valley Transportation Authority being the most prominent.

Rose Bookbinder complimented the council on a separate resolution that expresses support for individuals on temporary protected status, “Dreamers” and undocumented immigrants.

She then linked that issue with the issue of the police’s tactical appropriation, noting many immigrants have fled police and military in their own countries.

“We need to align our values,” she said.

She then asked everyone who supported the immigration resolution to stand, and then asked those who saw the link between the issues to stand. Nearly the whole room got to its feet.

Jess Johnson, meanwhile, read postcards from the public to the council that expressed opposition to the appropriation.

One resident who spoke in favor of the appropriation was Andrew Smith, who complimented the Northampton Police on their ability to defuse tense situations. He also said that it was possible to fund both the equipment and social services.

In the debate over the appropriation, Councilor Klein said she felt that the public was asking for necessary movement away from the policies of the past. She also said that she wanted more detailed information about what the department is purchasing, as well as the policies surrounding their deployment.

“We should get answers,” she said.

Ward 6 Councilor Marianne LaBarge noted how the issue of the appropriation had raised controversy in the community.

“There’s such a division,” said LaBarge.

She said that an advisory committee on the police was in order.

Dwight said that there were two issues involved, the line item and a broader debate over policing. He said that the two things should not be grouped together.

He also expressed a desire to see a public forum on policing not presided over by the council.

While Dwight said that he understood the impetus for a more granular response on the appropriation, he said that it would have to be done with other agencies as well.

Ward 4 Councilor Gina-Louise Sciarra noted that she had seen the police use tactical items in the past, namely when they had used protective equipment to enter a drug lab that was set up near her house.

“I’m not gonna vote against a recurring capital expense to replace equipment that’s been used properly, and used to protect city employees,” she said.

Klein meanwhile, said that a more granular response was still necessary.

“Let’s not compare apples to oranges,” she said. “There are particular sensitivities.”

Klein put forward a resolution to continue the discussion until the next meeting, so that a request for more information from the chief could be made. This was defeated by a vote of 6-3, with Klein, Dwight and LaBarge voting for it. The appropriation itself was then approved by a 8-1 vote.

A number of councilors did say, however, that they would like to have more discussions on policing issues.

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




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