Andrew Smith: ‘Try to see our local police officers as members of our community’

  • The Northampton Police Department. FILE PHOTO

Published: 1/4/2019 9:30:24 AM

Last spring, I spoke at city council in favor of equipping the Northampton Police Department with safety equipment, which was described as riot gear, because I believe we have an obligation to provide public servants with tools and conditions for a safe work environment.

At the time, I applauded the city council’s decision to consider public commentary on the matter and then vote to fund Chief Kasper’s request. I still think it is right, and fair, to give public safety officials tools and equipment that will allow them to be as safe as possible in a comparatively dangerous job. As a community, we need the police department, and we need to support Chief Kasper’s efforts to engage with the city.

However, I attended the city council discussion about whether or not to accept ammo from the Walmart corporation to speak against taking the gift for the following reasons: intellectual consistency and fair play. At several moments in our recent history, the city has taken positions in favor of workers’ rights and in favor of stronger gun safety regulations. Moreover, the city has made it a point to promote its downtown as an alternative to out-of-the-box consumerism. To accept a gift from a corporation that does not support some of the core beliefs the city espouses, simply because the corporation had made a decision to discontinue a product line, seemed to be hypocritical, and I did not see how one could be critical of a company while accepting its gifts.

So, for the sake of consistency, I asked that the city council not accept Walmart’s gift. From my perspective, there were larger issues at play with this gift than whether or not we should support the police department (we should). Moving into the 21st century, we, as citizens, are right to question whether or not we want partnerships, of any sort, forming between corporate entities and our police force. That seems like a troubling connection, and one that should not be glibly written off. Also, local cities and towns do not have an obligation to intervene when a market failure produces an un-marketable product.

Yes, rhetoric around policing gets heated and is oftentimes boiled down to pro-police and anti-police, but I think this ammunition story was not about whether or not we should support the police. I firmly believe that we should have local control when it comes to the way in which we police ourselves. Yes, we should fully fund training requests and provide resources to allow officers to operate, but when it comes to local policing, my opinion is that we should bear those costs through a combination of public and foundation money, where applicable.

Doubtless, the issue of policing will resurface. I only ask that we allow ourselves the mental space to think of policing in nuanced terms. For the record, I thought “High-Five Fridays” was a great idea, and I also had my kids chasing down police officers to get trading cards last summer when they were handing them out to children. I say this to demonstrate that we are capable, as people, of having more than two thoughts in our minds at the same time when we think about policing. We can all do better with our language around this topic, and I hope that we take the opportunity in future debates to curb the outrage factor and try to see our local police officers as members of our community.

Andrew Smith

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