I've spent the last few days traveling around my ward, listening to anyone who's out in their yard or standing in the smoking shelters of their apartment complex, asking them what's going on and what they think about the police budget. The stories are complex but most relate to mental health issues, addiction, lack of housing and domestic violence. These are issues that I believe people other than the police would be more equipped to handle and would result in better outcomes for everyone. Police in this country and here in Northampton, despite good intentions, function as a tool to manage the inequalities of our society, which produces injustice for people who are poor, not white, or who are socially marginalized.
The NPD is known as a model department. There is valuable work done by our police every day. I spent an hour with the Chief yesterday and, while not perfect, it is functioning just as a police department should. And that's the problem. There are limits to policing, and about what we are asking police to do. We ask them to be experts in fields that they are not, and to do jobs where the presence of armed officers actually makes the situations worse. A different solution is needed to our problems - in addition to police reform.
I believe a 35% reduction in the police force is an achievable goal. Given the number of calls the department gets that could be answered by alternatives to policing, and the research that shows that investing in the human needs of our community reduces the need for policing, we can do this. And not just to respond to crises in the moment, but to seek prevention through community investment.
So how do we get there?
Let's talk about what a reduction today would mean. I've spoken about not wanting to rush the process, and wanting a plan to be in place. Here's why we should think about reducing some of the budget now:
I can't in good conscience support a cut of the size that some are requesting, without alternatives in place. There are too many unknowns, and I'm not willing to risk public safety and the future of this movement in Northampton. I have looked at the size of our force in relation to many other college towns with tourism, and at the distribution and types of calls for service. Let's have a conversation about a 15% cut. What would this mean in terms of policing? What would it free up for the many other needs we have in our city?
We will need near consensus to pass anything tonight, and I am putting this forward in a spirit of collaboration, conversation, and knowing that all of us care deeply for this city. Regardless of what we decide tonight, I am committed to moving these issues forward, with input from all members of the community.
We will be voting on this issue tonight (Thursday 6/18), at 5 pm at our next City Council meeting. Please join us then! You can participate in public comment, or comment by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The agenda and Zoom/call-in information is posted here.