Northampton chief: Commission’s police department report contains flaws

  • Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Northampton Police Station GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/15/2021 4:34:42 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As a city commission reviewing how the Police Department operates works toward releasing a final report in mid-March, the police chief is concerned about the number of officers leaving the department in recent months and offering sharp criticism about the accuracy of parts of the panel’s preliminary report released earlier this month.

Police Chief Jody Kasper said this week that five police officers have resigned from the department since the summer, when the City Council voted to cut the police budget amid an outcry across the country over police brutality.

“Since that time we’ve lost one, two, three, four, five, and I’ve got two that are early retiring,” Kasper said.

The departures do not include five positions eliminated from the department when the council reduced the police budget last year by about 10%, a decision that came after hundreds of people came to council meetings asking for the reductions. At the same time, the council also created a Policing Review Commission — a joint commission of the City Council and mayor — to review the department and suggest changes.

“They want to go to an agency in a community that want police,” Kasper said of patrol officers who have voluntarily left. “They want to work in a community where they are valued … These officers that are resigning are not leaving the field. They are leaving the city of Northampton.”

Now, Kasper is worried about retention of the remaining officers in her department. 

Report details

The chief is also raising concerns about the 29-page preliminary report the policing commission released earlier this month, which she said contains some inaccurate information.

The commission’s chair, Dan Cannity, said the report is a work in progress and is not final. He said its volunteer members want to be collaborative as they continue to gather more information and analyze the data they’ve already received.

“This is only an initial report,” Cannity said. “There is only so much we can say within it. It’s not perfect.”

Among Kasper’s complaints:

■ A pie chart that cites nearly 97% of patrol officer time as “unaccounted hours.”

Part of the issue, Kasper said, was that the wrong number was used for staffing in the estimation the commission made, hours of call logs were left out, and the commission didn’t take into account vacation, personal time, training, or other reasons officers might be out.

Cannity said the commission made the estimate by looking at call logs and logged hours and making a calculation partially based on the number of officers in the department its members gathered based on the city’s budget. Its members acknowledge that some information is missing and that they are waiting for more. He also said the commission, which received additional information from Kasper on Jan. 6, didn’t have time to incorporate it into the preliminary report before presenting it to the City Council a day later. The subcommittee in charge of that section would have to meet to agree on any changes, he said, and under Open Meeting Law, meetings must be posted publicly at least 48 hours in advance.

“It was way too late to incorporate changes,” Cannity said. “I’m not blaming the chief either, we’ve been demanding so much information from them.”

The commission has already started taking the new information into account, he said.

The commission’s intent of analyzing patrol officer time is to better understand how the department uses its resources so that it can “make responsible recommendations as responsibilities are transitioned away from the NPD,” the report notes.

“We’re just looking to account for officer time as it relates to public safety roughly,” Cannity said. “Because if we’re talking about transferring responsibilities, OK now a service provider is going to take some percent of calls, some number of calls, the first thing that organization asks is how much work is it and how are we going to staff that?” He added, “Just cutting the police budget, just saying alright, next year it’s going to be cut by 50%, doesn’t help anybody.”

■A section on drone and surveillance findings, in which the report states the department has more officers trained to operate drones than it does to investigate rape.

Kasper wrote in an email that the department has 21 officers trained as certified sexual assault investigators and five trained drone operators.

When Cannity was asked about that statistic, he said that part of the report was done by the Policies and Services subcommittee, a committee he is not formally on, and that he reached out to get clarification from them about it, but had not heard back by Thursday afternoon.

■ A section about police officer gross pay. “Police officers represent the majority of the highest paid city employees, including many making more than the mayor,” the report reads, noting that some officers receive money from outside detail work totaling thousands or tens of thousands of dollars each year.

Kasper is concerned that people reading the report will not understand that detail work, which is part of gross pay, is in addition to their city-paid salary and mostly paid for by outside companies, such as New England Treatment Access, Kasper said. In fiscal 2019, for example, about a dozen officers made more than $30,000 in outside detail, at a rate of $51 per hour outlined in the current union contracts signed in 2019.

The report also notes some officers doing many hours of detail and expresses concern that police officers are working too many hours, “which represents potential danger to the community in that they are driving at high speeds and carrying weapons.”

“Generally speaking, I don’t have any concerns about the number of hours people are working,” Kasper said. There is sometimes requests for detail work to the police department that go unfilled, according to Kasper.

In addition to the outside detail pay to officers, there is a 10% administrative fee added, Kasper said. “That money doesn’t come to the police department. It goes into the city. In that way, officers are bringing quite a bit of money into the city with that 10% fee.”

Alternative programs

Cannity said the biggest takeaways from the preliminary report is that alternative programs in other places have worked.

“I think the biggest (takeaway) is there are decades worth of research and decades worth of examples where you can have unarmed responders outside of police that works, that provides community care really efficiently,” he said, giving the example of CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets), a mental health first-responder program in Eugene, Oregon that started in 1989.

Kasper welcomed the idea of crisis clinicians responding to mental-health-related calls, and noted that the department has police officers that are liaisons to Clinical & Support Options, a behavioral and mental health agency.

“We know we deal with a lot of people who are in a mental health crisis. And we’d love to have more resources,” she said.

Commission makeup

While some officers have left the police department, the Policing Review Commission has also lost members since it started convening. There are no members of law enforcement on the commission. 

“Everyone on here is a volunteer,” Cannity said.

He estimated that as chair, he puts in on average 12 to 15 hours a week. It’s “a part-time job,” he said. “That has been an issue when it comes to people who are single parents, or people who are parents.”

He noted the commission lost three people, all of them women of color.

“Each of them cited that the work and requirement of doing it in this condensed time is too much,” he said. 

So far, two new people have been appointed.

Cannity did not know that police officers had resigned.

“I’m not that concerned that suddenly there is going to be a massive uptick in crime or there’s going to be a 30% increase in the murder rate,” he said. “What that does tell me though is there’s concern by the officers about what is going to happen. And I understand that.”

After cuts and voluntary departures, there are 34 patrol officers currently able to work for the department, Kasper said. Patrol staffing for 2019 was provided to the commission by Kasper, and staffing ranged from 30 to 36 patrol officers throughout the year taking into account officers on leave or in training.

With the loss of some officers since the summer, she is concerned about cost, as she said it costs $46,000 to hire and train a new officer — that includes physical and psychological exams, around $3,000 in tuition for the police academy, and a salary while the person is in training, which is five months long.

Kasper referenced the Department of Justice FBI Uniform Crime Report, saying her department’s ratio of 2.08 officers per 1,000 people in the city is less than average for New England, whose ratio is 2.2, she wrote in document sent to the commission that she shared with the Gazette.

Cannity also spoke about that ratio.

“That’s really interesting to know — that’s good to know,” he said. “That represents the history of policing,” he said, adding that maybe the city should come up with new metrics, like 2.2 social workers per 1,000 people to help prevent crime. “We want to look at what the future is — in that case, the numbers are going to look different.”

The commission’s final report is due by mid-March. The entire preliminary report is available on the city’s website. The commission is working on contacting social service agencies and other organizations to gather comment from people about their experiences with the police but who might not come to a public meeting, such as those who are houseless, Cannity said.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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