Town Manager Plans Working Group To Recommend Policies on Community Safety

Vigil protesting the killing of George Floyd. Amherst Common, May 31, 2020. Photo: Art Keene

Town Manager, Paul Bockelman presented his plan for a new, nine member working group to develop policies on community safety in a memo to The Town Council on Monday morning (9/14/20). The working group was proposed in response to the national response to the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and other incidents of police violence directed at people of color, and by widespread calls to explore alternatives to policing including those by local organizations Defund 413 and Racial Equity Taskforce Of Amherst.

The working group will be charged with:

• studying the complex issues of delivering community safety – currently provided through the police department and other means – to ensure racial equity;
• recommending reforms to the current organizational and oversight structures; and,
• examining existing Town funding priorities.

The committee will consist of nine members and will be appointed by Bockelman. No fewer than six members will represent Black, Indigenous, People of Color, or other historically marginalized communities. The Police Chief or his designee will serve as an ex officio, non-voting member. The Working Group will elect its own chair and vice-chair.

The Working Group is expected to include members who have subject matter expertise; project management skills; human-centered design knowledge; community organizing experience; and/or be representative of impacted resident groups. 

Bockelman’s proposal involves an expanded interview process to select the nine community members. He plans to invite the following individuals/groups to participate on the Interview Team: 

  • Keisha Dennis of the Residents’ Advisory Committee
  • Matthew Charity, Chair of the Human Rights Commission
  • Sid Ferreira of the Human Rights Commission and the ABC House Resident Director
  • A BIPOC public safety employee of the Town or UMass who does not need to be an Amherst resident
  • An Amherst resident chosen by the Racial Equity Task Force
  • An Amherst resident chosen by the Defund 413 group
  • An Amherst resident BIPOC consultant who has worked previously to provide anti-racism training to Town or School employees  

The nominations resulting from this interview process will be submitted to Town Council for its consideration in the usual manner.

Bockelman said that the Town’s first step is “to understand the nature of the problem the Town is seeking to fix. The national dialogue has focused on police brutality and racism. The goal for the Town should be to know with more precision what the specific issues in Amherst are from the perspective of people’s personal experiences. We have heard from many people during Town Council meetings and through emails and phone calls. I have met privately one-on-one and with small groups, as has the Police Chief. We have also heard there are community members who do not feel comfortable attending any of the meetings offered so far.” 

The Working Group will set a work plan to:

  • Learn from previous work by the Town through previous studies and committees and efforts to move toward greater racial equity 
  • Examine current public safety services and how they are delivered 
    • Review policies, complaints, and current training practices including:  current policies and training practices;  complaints and response data, including location and context for reports;  a map of services available, matched up with complaint data and feedback from residents about what’s needed to maintain community safety;  an overview of current emergency response operations, including resources invested and policies and protocols relevant to emergency dispatch 
    • Explore models of resident oversight of police departments including: Eugene, OR “Cahoots” – Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Street; Albuquerque – Community Safety Alternative; Denver STAR –Support Team Assisted Response.
    • Collect data from people’s experiences in Amherst; 
    • Engage the communities most impacted by policing to develop alternatives and identify solutions to diagnosed problems;  

Bockelman plans to report back to the Council on the recommendations of the Working Group by January 31, 2021.

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