Living up to her promise: Departing Police Chief Kasper hailed for captaining department through trying times

As she prepares to leave as Northampton’s police chief at the end of the year for a similar job in Nantucket, Jody Kasper, pictured in her Northampton office, reflects on her 25 years with the NPD, including the last eight-plus years as chief.

As she prepares to leave as Northampton’s police chief at the end of the year for a similar job in Nantucket, Jody Kasper, pictured in her Northampton office, reflects on her 25 years with the NPD, including the last eight-plus years as chief. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

As she prepares to leave as Northampton’s police chief at the end of the year for a similar job in Nantucket, Jody Kasper, pictured in her Northampton office, reflects on her 25 years with the NPD, including the last eight-plus years as chief.

As she prepares to leave as Northampton’s police chief at the end of the year for a similar job in Nantucket, Jody Kasper, pictured in her Northampton office, reflects on her 25 years with the NPD, including the last eight-plus years as chief. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

As she prepares to leave as Northampton’s police chief at the end of the year for a similar job in Nantucket, Jody Kasper — pictured in her Northampton office — reflects on her 25 years with the NPD, including the last eight-plus years as chief.

As she prepares to leave as Northampton’s police chief at the end of the year for a similar job in Nantucket, Jody Kasper — pictured in her Northampton office — reflects on her 25 years with the NPD, including the last eight-plus years as chief. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 11-28-2023 6:12 PM

NORTHAMPTON — When she accepted the job more than eight years ago to become the city’s first female police chief, Jody Kasper had this message for the community: “I hope to live up to your expectations and I will do my very best to do that.”

Former City Council president William Dwight, who was on the search committee that selected Kasper in 2015 to replace longtime chief Russell P. Sienkiewicz, says Kasper has done just that in her time as chief — and in all the 25 years she’s been on the Northampton police force. Come January, Kasper will leave the department to become Nantucket’s police chief.

“The fact that she was running for chief actually thrilled me,” said Dwight, recalling the 2015 search. “There were some pretty good candidates, but Jody was the one person who was devoted to the department, devoted to the community and had distinguished herself by actually understanding how to navigate the community.”

When she walks out of the station for the final time at the end of December, Kasper will leave behind a legacy of facing down some of the biggest issues that have affected police departments across the country, as well as trying to establish a possible blueprint for what a more progressive version of policing might look like.

Kasper joined the police force in 1998 as a rank-and-file patrol officer, was on bike patrol for three years, served as a detective for six years, and ran the detective bureau as its lieutenant before being named captain of operations a year before being selected chief. As a detective, she specialized in cases dealing with sexual assault and child abuse.

“I had really difficult cases that I managed,” Kasper recalls. “There were cases where I was just glad I could help the family through what they got through and bring the case to a conclusion.”

Kasper’s time as chief coincided with national debates on policing and criminal justice reform, something that members of the politically active Northampton community engaged in. In 2020, following the killing of George Floyd by Officer Derek Chauvin, more than 4,000 people protested in front of the Northampton Police Station, followed a short time later with the City Council voting to cut the police budget by 10%.

“It was painful,” Kasper recalled. “I think most police officers that I know, we really got into it in earnest to help people and solve problems. And so viewing ourselves that way, and then hearing some of the things that we heard during that time was really hard. I think it caused a lot of people to engage in some self-reflection like, ‘Oh my gosh, who am I and am I a good person?’”

Listening, learning

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As a result of those protests, the city created the Northampton Policing Review Commission to explore and propose alternatives to traditional policing. Kasper supported some of the measures brought forth from those discussions, including increased support for mental health within the community.

“You don’t always find a chief that’s willing to listen and learn, and to move forward,” Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan said of Kasper. “I think some of the issues that she took on were very important, particularly her forward thinking regarding mental health and law enforcement.”

Though she was active in trying to placate protesters and work with their demands, Kasper says she wishes things had gone differently.

“What I wish I saw more was really calling people in instead of calling people out,” she said. “I don’t believe that creating a silo where police are over here in this whole other thing, but not invited to engage in so many other really productive parts of the community.”

She stresses the need for collaboration between police and community members to work at solving some of the city’s problems, citing the issue of homelessness as an example.

“Homelessness is not about whether we go out and patrol and move people to a different area,” she said. “It involves substance use, it involves poverty, it involves mental health and addiction. None of these major problems that we’re tasked with dealing with can be solved independently.”

Part of the collaboration recently launched in the form of a new Division of Community Care, organized under the city’s health department. The DCC provides unarmed response to emergency calls relating to mental health crises, substance abuse and other non-criminal incidents, acting as an alternative to a police response.

Kasper said she’s highly supportive of the new DCC responders.

“They’ve been fantastic, a huge resource for our officers and for the community,” she said. “I’m pretty proud of navigating through really complicated conversations in our community, and having our budget where it is now and the fact that we’re fully staffed.”

Time for change

Though she has been considering a change in location for some time, Kasper said she didn’t want to leave Northampton until she felt the Police Department was in a healthy position to move on without her. The Nantucket position appealed to her, she said, because her partner, Melissa Lake, has family who lives in Yarmouth, and they had wanted to move to the Cape Cod and Islands area for a while.

“Once we hired her, my continued worry was the she was going to be poached by another community,” Dwight said. “I knew that was an inevitability, but Nantucket was a bit of a surprise to me.”

Northampton Police Capt. John Cartledge, who will take over as interim chief when Kasper departs on Jan. 2, said the hiring process for determining the next chief would incorporate community input, and be determined sometime within the next few weeks.

“We’re going to miss her a whole lot,” Cartledge said of Kasper. “Whatever the issues are, she’s always been willing to meet one-on-one.”

Other members of the department also shared their sentiments regarding their chief’s eventual departure.

“I’ve always found her to be incredibly thoughtful and compassionate when dealing with difficult situations, and she’s genuinely concerned about the well-being of everyone who works for her,” said Tammy Suprenant, an administrative assistant with the NPD. “I really value working with someone who has high standards — not only for those that work for them, but also holds themselves to those high standards.”

Sullivan said he had spoken with the district attorney for the Cape and Islands, Robert Galibois, and that Galibois had said he was looking forward to working with Kasper.

“I think the word is already out in that community that they’ve really been able to hire a really high quality chief,” Sullivan said. “It’s not easy being a chief of a city and certainly Northampton has had its challenges over the years, but I think that Jody’s been able to meet them and exceed them.”

Northampton Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra said in a statement to the Gazette that she had the deepest respect for her work during her time as police chief.

“Jody has a fabulous sense of humor, an incredible curiosity about the world and a very caring spirit,” Sciarra said. “I will miss her very much and am forever grateful for all she has given Northampton.”

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.