Mayor mulls police reform while drafting budget

  • Northampton City Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper, right, and Captain John Cartledge march with the Northampton Police Department down Main Street during a Northampton Memorial Day parade in Florence. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/14/2021 7:48:50 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Policing Review Commission presented its final report to the City Council late last month with a number of suggestions to change policing in the city. Now, as Mayor David Narkewicz drafts what will be his final city budget, what happens next?

The report’s main suggestion: creating a Department of Community Care that would be independent of the Police Department and would, through the city’s dispatch system, send unarmed responders to nonviolent calls such as those related to mental health.

In Northampton, the mayor writes the budget, and City Council has the power to approve or reject the budget and particular line items.

Narkewicz plans to submit his budget proposal for fiscal year 2022, which begins July 1, to the City Council next month. In an interview Tuesday, he said he’s looking closely at the report and didn’t say exactly what might be funded.

“I’m studying the report in its totality and as part of putting together the budget,” he said.

The report asks that the new department be funded in the new fiscal year and be fully operational in 2023.

Narkewicz said for the next fiscal year, he’s examining what he can try to put in place or provide funding for to begin to put shape to the recommendations and advance them for implementation.

“Obviously, I’m not going to be the one that’s ultimately going to implement them, I’m also mindful of that,” said Narkewicz who announced in January that he is not running for reelection.

Last summer, Narkewicz and the City Council created the commission and asked its members to review the Police Department and make recommendations on changes to policing and public safety. The moves came in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, which prompted many area residents to call for Northampton to cut the Police Department’s budget — something the council did by 10%.

One of the report’s many recommendations is a needs assessment. “We would recommend that an independent organization be brought in to do a formal needs assessment to review all city infrastructure as it relates to public safety,” the report reads.

Getting more detailed analysis of department data, like call data, is important, Narkewicz said.

“If you’re saying we’re going to shift a number of these calls to a new agency, there’s still some work that has to be done to unpack those numbers as well,” he said.

There is a “strong recommendation that it (the Department of Community Care) would be a stand-alone, new city department. The challenge now is to figure out the details of what that would look like and what that would entail and understand what the needs are, in terms of size and staffing of such a department, which is what we would do if we were creating any department or taking on new services,” the mayor said.

The commission also suggested that funding cut from the Police Department budget last year be put toward the new Department of Community Care.

The $880,000 cut from the department’s budget last year reduced the amount of Fiscal Stability Stabilization Fund the city budget needed, but mid-year, Narkewicz had to use more than $350,000 in reserves to balance the budget.

“If I’m going to propose something, I’m going to provide the funding for it,” he said. “But the funding that’s being discussed related to the FY2021 budget was really funding that was coming from our fiscal stability fund, it was not ongoing general operating revenue. We ended up having to tap back into that before we set our tax rate in order to make up for revenues that were still not recovering fully from COVID,” he said.

If the Police Department’s budget had not been cut last summer, the budget hole created by COVID still would have had to be plugged and Narkewicz said he would have had to ask the council for money from the fiscal stability fund.

According to the mayor’s financial trend report, dated late January, at the end of this fiscal year, the city will have about $2.5 million in the Fiscal Stability Stabilization Fund.

The commission also suggested changes to how investigations of complaints are handled. Narkewicz said police reform legislation passed last year, among other changes, will create a commission that is responsible for investigating misconduct.

“My focus right now, which I hope you can appreciate, is the immediacy of what kind of budgetary recommendations I will make. Some of those policy issues are further down the road,” Narkewicz said.

He added, “Now my work … it’s to see how I can incorporate advancing the report in the fiscal year 2022 budget which I have to propose in over 30 days.”

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




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