Jenifer Urff: Policing commission deserves accolades

Published: 4/12/2021 10:07:33 AM

Thank you to members of the Northampton Policing Review Commission for an excellent, thought-provoking first step toward improving public safety in our community. The individual reflections appended to the report illustrate the enormous personal as well as systems-level challenges of this work.

As a 20-year resident of Northampton, I am grateful for your leadership. The report begins with the belief, backed by evidence from many communities around the country, that public safety is enhanced by creating alternatives to police intervention.

In particular, there are many more effective interventions appropriate for situations involving mental health and substance use crises, in which police involvement can escalate the situation and re-traumatize individuals and families reaching out for help. The report’s recommendations include establishing teams of trained individuals, including people with personal experiences with mental health crises and addiction, to respond to calls that do not require a police response.

A second recommendation, already in place in some Massachusetts communities, would provide “co-responders” to accompany police and lead the response when armed officers are not needed or are counterproductive. The Massachusetts Legislature is considering several bills that would support the infrastructure essential to the success of these programs. For example, bills co-sponsored by Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa would support more effective triage of 911 calls to identify those for which a non-police response would be more appropriate.

Another bill introduced by Sabadosa would provide grants to communities to develop non-police alternatives to 911 calls. Other bills supported by local legislators focus on building the infrastructure needed to successfully implement 988, a nationwide crisis services number expected to be operational by 2022. Significantly, the availability of 988 provides a unique opportunity to build a cohesive crisis response providing more appropriate, effective, and efficient alternatives to police interaction.

The Commission’s recommendations offer proven, feasible alternatives to police response. City and state officials should work together to ensure they are funded and implemented. The Massachusetts Association for Mental Health is committed to supporting this process for change.

Jenifer Urff



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