Editorial: Commission can set stage for policing change

  • Northampton Police Station

Published: 2/11/2021 4:36:38 PM

In about a month, the Northampton City Council will receive what could be one of its most important reports in years — one that could change the way its police force does business and, if supporters of police reform have their way, turn the city into a model for other communities to follow.

This report is critical, as it will lay the groundwork for future decisions governing public safety in Paradise City. That’s why we hope the final version to be presented by the Northampton Policing Review Commission in mid-March is better researched than the preliminary report released in early January.

Emotions around police reform continue to run high following the massive protests across the country last summer after the murder of George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis killed by a white police officer. Protests spilled into Northampton for two massive rallies in early June, one of which drew 4,500 people, to protest racial violence and police brutality.

That same week, some 500 people logged on to a council meeting via Zoom for a seven-hour budget hearing in which an overwhelming majority of speakers demanded that the Police Department’s budget be cut and that the way the city conducts policing undergo significant reform. The council listened, reducing the police budget by 10%. More significantly, the mayor and councilors a month later created the policing commission to review the department and suggest changes.

There are many layers the 15-member volunteer panel must unpeel to complete its mission, and it is being asked act quickly. While acting fast is certainly important, the commission bungled the rollout of its preliminary report as it tried to meet the deadline. That report included inaccurate information that irked Police Chief Jody Kasper, who does not have a seat on the commission and was not asked to meet with the panel before the release of the first draft (she spoke to subcommittees of the group this week).

Kasper pointed out the errors she viewed as egregious, noting that the report used the wrong staffing number when it said that 97% of patrol officer time is “unaccounted for;” that it was way off in stating that the department has more officers trained to operate drones than it does to investigate rape; and that it included a misleading section on gross pay.

These mistakes must be corrected, as recommendations about changes to city policing must be made with accurate information and include buy-in from the leaders of the very department that is likely to undergo a profound revamp.

The commission’s chairman, Dan Cannity, defended the report, noting that it is a “work in progress,” and that the people on the commission are volunteers. That’s all true, but that stance rings hollow when so much is at stake, even in a draft report, and at a time when some officers are leaving the force to work in other communities because they don’t feel welcome in Northampton. Cannity says updated information will be incorporated into the final report. We trust that’s the case.

Despite the chief’s concerns, the commission’s report contains solid information and provides a window into the direction some members are heading.

One of the commission’s subcommittees is studying several “non-policing response models,” one of which includes creating a community center, or “Resilience Hub,” where homeless people can gather, learn about services and access water, showers and storage. Another calls for the expansion of “harm reduction” and peer responder programs for both the homeless and those who struggle with substance issues.

The report points out that alternative programs in other places have worked. Some of these programs have had success in using unarmed responders outside of police to provide community care efficiently, especially in the areas of mental health, homelessness and substance abuse.

In the end, change is likely coming to policing in Northampton. We hope the commission sets the stage for the future.


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