Safety, funding highlight police commission hearing

  • Northampton Police Station GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/12/2021 4:39:36 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The police don’t make Jose Adastra feel safe. “I would never call them. If someone broke into my house I would not call the police,” he said on Thursday night at a Northampton Policing Review Commission public hearing.

Others felt differently. Kim Weeber noted that she was white and said “every interaction I’ve had, the police have been professional and helpful,” she said. After dogs charged at her on the bike path, she said she called the police department’s animal control officer. “To be able to call somebody to take care of this issue is really very valuable.”

Those were just two of the many comments from the 60-plus people who attended the commission’s second public hearing since Mayor David Narkewicz and the City Council created the 15-member panel last summer in the wake of the killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day. The commission is reviewing the police department and is expected to release a final report next month that includes recommendations on changes to policing and public safety.

At Thursday’s meeting, many people called for a steep cut to the police department’s budget, among other changes. Making people feel safe also generated a lot of discussion from those who spoke.

Robert Eastman, for example, said it’s not appropriate for people to describe their positive experiences with police when not everyone has similar experiences. “I hear that they can be helpful,” Eastman said. “We can count on them (police) as white people, but at what expense is our safety executed for?”

Ashwin Ravikumar echoed Eastman, saying that there are people who don’t feel safe. “What we need to strive for is a system that keeps everyone safe at the expense of no one,” Ravikumar said.

A number of people also said they support the demands of Northampton Abolition Now, an activist group that wants to city to reallocate the approximately $880,000 cut from the police budget in the current fiscal year to “meet the urgent needs of community members.” The group also wants the city to create a so-called Department of Community Care, “which shall be responsible for reimagining and implementing true public safety in Northampton,” and to cut next year’s police budget by 50%, with the money being redirected to people most harmed by policing and state violence.

Sony Coráñez Bolton said she supports these demands.

“I’m moved by developments in Denver, Colorado, for instance, in which mental health professionals and care workers instead of police are called to address mental health issues or substance issues,” Bolton said, adding, “I think Northampton has a possibility to be a national model for these types of initiatives.”

Patrick Waite agreed. “We have decades of research … that show very minimal or marginal effects at best with impact bias training,” he said. “I believe a better solution would be to reduce the presence of police and advocate for social workers and peer-led responders for most cases.”

One person, who did not give her name, said she was “met with a really trauma-informed response” by police when she reported being a victim of domestic violence. She added, “Until you are raped or your sister is raped or your daughter is raped or your mother is assaulted, you have no business defunding the department,” she said. “For me, blue lives matter, every single one.”

Danielle Amodeo, who also said she was a survivor of domestic violence, felt differently, and said she supported Northampton Abolition Now and its demands. When she feels unsafe, she wants to call someone for help.

“I just don’t need that person to have a history of violence to Black and brown people, and I don’t need that person to show up with a gun,” she said.

In responding to some people who spoke, commissioners spoke about the goal of their work.

Dan Cannity, co-chair, said that “we’re not looking at defunding a department. We’re looking at reinvesting in a community,” he said. “The ability to protect is still there, but different people would do it. We’re not trying to make anyone less safe in that regard.”

Member Carol Owen said she believes “there are good police in this town. I do not dispute there are really good experiences people are grateful for,” she said. “But I really want us to think about how non-equivocal it is when individual white people have good experiences with good individual police and how not equivocal that is to systemic and structural aspects of policing in this country and this town that have been damaging and frightening and terrorizing to other people — people with disabilities, Black and brown people.”

Commission member Javier Luengo-Garrido spoke about the need for alternatives. “There are specific situations where I do not need a person with a gun to show up,” he said. “We need to be bold. We need to be able to imagine how this can be different.”

The commission has scheduled another public hearing for March 6, and encourages residents to send written comments to A final report is expected by mid-March.

Greta Jochem can be reached at

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