Activists to urge Northampton council to slash police budget

  • Northampton Police Station Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 6/15/2021 9:11:52 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Northampton Abolition Now is expected to renew its call for the city to slash the Police Department budget by 50% on Thursday night, urging its members and other activists to attend the City Council’s virtual meeting, at which a final vote on Mayor David Narkewicz’s proposed $121.7 million budget will be taken.

In addition to calling for the 50% budget cut, NAN members, who call Narkewicz’s budget plan “racist,” will also push for twice as much money as Narkewicz proposed for a new Department of Community Care, which would be independent of the police and respond to some nonviolent calls with unarmed responders.

“Given the clear calls from the Black Lives Matter movement to defund and abolish the racist, violent system that is policing — a budget which keeps racist policing in tact [sic] is a racist, bad budget,” NAN wrote in talking points it put out in advance of Thursday’s meeting.

The mayor said that a March report by the Policing Review Commission did not recommend a 50% cut to the police department, and he believes his proposal “puts forth a good faith effort” to achieve the commission’s goal of establishing the new department. The budget includes $424,000 to fund it.

Narkewicz’s proposed fiscal 2022 budget, approved by the council on first reading at its June 3 meeting, increases school and police department funding and restores full-time staff to the senior services and health departments.

The proposed budget represents a 4.8% increase over the current fiscal year. The plan would restore all but nine of the 22 positions across the city’s workforce that were eliminated due to declining revenues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thursday’s virtual meeting is scheduled for at 5:30 p.m. via Zoom. The public is invited to attend and provide comment before the vote.

In a May letter to city councilors, Narkewicz said his proposed budget is “one of cautious optimism and active recovery as our city and the nation continue to bring the deadly COVID-19 pandemic under control.”

Narkewicz reiterated that point in an interview Tuesday. He added that the budget is balanced and does not use any fiscal stability funds.

A Proposition 2½ override approved by voters in March 2020 was delayed until the upcoming fiscal year due to the pandemic. The expected revenue is included in the mayor’s budget.

The budget seeks funding for an assistant health director position, a public health nurse, a youth substance abuse counselor and the restoration of senior services staff who were “necessarily sidelined” during the pandemic.

The mayor wants to increase funding for Northampton Public Schools by $1.3 million, or 4%, and boost Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School’s budget by 3.6%.

Police budget

The police budget, however, is likely to get the most scrutiny on Thursday.

The Policing Review Commission, appointed in response to nationwide unrest following the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of police and private citizens, highlighted in its report a pattern of budget increases for the police department over the last decade while crime rates were declining. The report found that, after overtime and detail pay, several police officers earn more than the mayor’s $92,500 salary.

“The Northampton Police Department budget has increased by 24% over the past 5 years, and 41% over the past 10 years,” the report reads. “This, in dollar amounts, is an increase of $1,847,123 in a decade which has actually seen crime rates decrease by more than 25%.”

The commission recommended establishing the civilian Department of Community Care, which would respond to certain emergencies typically handled by police, promote the safety of homeless people, work to prevent substance abuse and improve mental health crisis intervention, among other public safety tasks.

Ultimately, NAN and other activists want the police to stop responding to wellness checks, suspicious person calls, nonviolent public assembly, animal control, minor traffic accidents and misdemeanors, among other matters the group believes are “not vital” and should be handled by the new department instead.

“To design and implement the Department for Community Care we need a team of well paid individuals with lived experiences that represent the communities most impacted by policing,” NAN wrote in materials to help activists prepare for Thursday’s council meeting. “The current $424k budget only allows for the Department Head and a single part-time assistant.”

Activists wanted Narkewicz to fund the new department with at least $882,602, the total that was cut from the Northampton Police Department by the council in the current fiscal year’s budget. The review commission’s report recommended this figure, and perhaps more, be reinvested in other areas of community safety.

NAN argues that the allocation would allow for hiring a team of crisis responders, setting up an advisory board and performing mission-critical work like a community needs assessment.

Narkewicz said the two paid positions would cost $112,255, and the remaining funding would be “allotted for additional data analysis, a recommended community needs assessment, and other outside consulting support and studies as needed.”

NAN is encouraging members of the public to attend the budget meeting and “explain why police are violent, white supremacist, (and) exist to control and criminalize people of color, poor people and other marginalized communities.”

Moving on

This budget is the last under Narkewicz, 54, who announced in January that he would not seek a fourth term. A Shelburne Falls native, Narkewicz has been Northampton’s chief executive since 2011 and previously served three terms on the City Council.

“I feel like, when I leave the corner office in January, our fiscal house will be in good order,” Narkewicz said Tuesday.

City Council President Gina-Louise Sciarra, social worker Shanna Fishel, engineer Jared Greenberg and Rosechana Gordon, an activist whose background is in social work and life coaching, have announced plans to run for mayor. Nomination papers must be submitted to the city clerk’s office by Friday, Aug. 13, at 5 p.m.

The public can join Thursday’s City Council meeting by going to https://bit.ly/3vfNBKT or calling (929) 436-2866. The meeting ID is 974 0795 0384 and the passcode is 824291.

Other items on the agenda include petitions from National Grid and Verizon New England to install utility poles on Finn, King, Myrtle and Pine streets, and the reappointment of about 20 members of various city committees.




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