Thoughts on the police budget


I want to start by first acknowledging the hundreds of people who emailed and called me, and everyone who spoke at the hearings last week. I appreciate your testimony, and the courage you all had. I find being a city councilor a wonderful experience, and am also filled with anxiety to speak out. Speaking last week, I felt like I did the first time I spoke before council, which was terrified! I won’t let that stop me, and I don’t want that to stop you either. Let’s fulfill the promise of our democratic process and hear from all voices.

I have been horrified by the murder of George Floyd and by violent actions of police toward black and brown people around the country. The protests we've seen across the nation and here in Northampton demonstrate the built-up anger and frustration at the continued oppression, on top of centuries of systemic racism that deny people of color economic security, safety and respect.

I am humbled and impressed by anyone who will put their lives on the line to protect the public, and our public safety departments do this every day. The emergency response work that the NPD does is crucial. Our police department has and will be undertaking steps to be fair and impartial, to understand racism and reduce the use of force. These actions are absolutely necessary.

The first-person testimony on mistreatment by the Northampton police we heard in the hearing was heartbreaking. I believe Chief Kasper has good intentions and it is clear there is so much more work to do. Individuals in our police force who don’t act appropriately need to be held accountable, but the bigger question is systemic.

Any actions that the NPD takes to improve don't get to the core of the problems our society faces -- economic inequality, racism, addiction, and domestic violence, to name a few. I think it's worth looking at our city's budget from a new perspective.

How many of our police officers’ tasks can be done by people who are not armed, with better outcomes? At the budget hearing on 6/3, I asked how many of the department’s calls were related to a mental health issue (about 1 in 5), and spoke about a program in Eugene, Oregon, where 1 in 5 calls are responded to by mental health first responders rather than police ( I researched this further and found articles stating that specifically trained mental health workers, unarmed and not in a uniform, can reach better outcomes with much less cost. How many of these stories we heard at the hearings would have ended differently if we’d had a program like this?

How could reallocation of the funds we are spending on policing alleviate the problems that policing is needed to solve? For example, housing. How much does it cost the city to police the unhoused? How much does it cost the state to provide health care to people for whom the emergency room is their doctor’s office? Would it be cheaper, and create much better outcomes, to simply house them?

This is an opportunity to move something forward that is not new, but becomes clearer and clearer every day that a paradigm shift in our response to social problems is needed. Last Thursday 6/4 I made a motion to level fund the police department. Many of my fellow councilors agreed. We didn't make a decision then due to the late hour. Given our declining crime rate and higher than average number of officers per capita, I don't think this will be a hardship for the department.

On Monday 6/8 the Mayor withdrew his budget request and submitted a new one, reducing the police department's budget as compared to last year by $19,066.

I ask the mayor to increase our social services instead to meet human needs, especially those that would decrease the need for policing, and to work with the Council to:

  • Create a body to explore alternatives to policing. The Council can start a Select Committee and work with the Mayor to use funds to support and educate it. Once we have a clear path forward on alternatives, we would reduce the police budget and use it to fund these alternatives.
  • Enact legislation to increase public safety and create policy.
  • Create a Civilian Oversight Board for the police, with power to investigate wrongdoing independently.
  • Implement Participatory Budgeting, a democratic process in which community members decide how to spend part of a public budget.

The conversation will continue this Wednesday 6/10 at 5 pm with a special council meeting. Please join us then! Public comment in the special meeting will be limited to 2 hours, and you can also comment by email to

I very much appreciate fellow councilor Karen Foster's perspective and summary in her newsletter from 6/9.